Why recognising water and sanitation as human rights is important
Water and sanitation are essential for life, for health, for dignity, empowerment and prosperity. A human rights framework encompasses a broad spectrum from the rights based approach on the one side to the legal right to water at the other. The rights based approach promotes participation in and information about people’s access to decision making forums that affect their access to water, sanitation and hygiene services. The legal approach promotes national and international justifiable approaches that promote accountability and transparency and provide mechanisms to progressively realise increasing peoples access to water and sanitation.
Further benefits include:
The right to water and sanitation confirms that access to minimum essential supplies of safe water and basic sanitation is a legal entitlement, rather than a charity or only a moral priority. The right to water provides a basis for individuals and groups to hold governments and other actors to account. Full recognition of access to water and sanitation as a right gives a real mandate to government officials to promote access to water and sanitation for all. Communities and other organisations can use the right to lobby the responsible agencies for improvements and call on them to fulfil their obligations.
Genuine participation and full access to relevant information
Human rights oblige governments to provide full access to information and engage in genuine consultation and participation with communities in all decision-making. Although participation is now acknowledged as best practice in the development sector, centralised planning processes remain prevalent and can neglect the input of various users, particularly those traditionally neglected, such as women or people living in informal settlements. The right to water and sanitation can help empower and enable communities to organise themselves, seek and obtain information, and legitimately take part in and influence the outcomes of relevant decision-making processes.
Priority for people without basic access
The right to water and sanitation entails that governments must prioritise ensuring access to minimum essential supplies to safe water services and basic sanitation for all people and use available resources accordingly. Governments spending their water and sanitation budgets on upgrading existing services to middle-class areas, while people in informal settlements or rural areas are left with no access at all, violate their international human rights obligations.
Prohibition of discrimination and attention to marginalised and vulnerable groups
Denial of access to water is often a deliberate choice of governments, or local authorities, to exclude communities seen as undesirable. Informal settlements the world over are often denied water services as a matter of policy. The right to water and sanitation prohibits discrimination on illegitimate grounds and requires that laws and policies provide special focus on vulnerable and marginalised groups, such as persons living in informal settlements.
Affordability of services
Water and sanitation services must be affordable to the user and not limit their access to other essential goods and services. Policies for service providers that require full cost recovery must also include subsidies or other grants to ensure that all residents are able to access services. Studies show that the most appropriate targeted subsidies are connection subsidies, rather than consumption subsidies
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