Water and sanitation are human rights

The human rights to water and sanitation are part of international human rights law.

Safe and clean drinking water and sanitation are explicitly recognised as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all other human rights in a groundbreaking  resolution that was passed by the General Assembly in July 2010. Later the same year a Human Rights Council resolution was affirmed through consensus, confirming that the right to water and sanitation already exists in international law, as the right is derived from the right to an adequate standard of living and also the right to health, guaranteed under articles 11 and 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). By mid 2012, all UN Member States had joined the consensus on the rights to water and sanitation.

The human right to water entitles everyone without discrimination to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use. The human right to sanitation entitles everyone without discrimination to physical and affordable access to sanitation, in all spheres of life, which is safe, hygienic, secure, socially and culturally acceptable, which provides for privacy and ensures dignity. Sanitation is defined as a system for the collection, transport, treatment, disposal or reuse of human excreta and associated hygiene.

For more information on what these content categories mean, see ‘the content of the rights explained’

Woman collecting clean water, Tilhari Village, India.

WaterAid/Jon Spaull

The rights to water and sanitation further require an explicit focus on the most disadvantage and marginalised, as well as an emphasis on equality, non-discrimination, participation, empowerment, accountability and transparency.

For more information on the legal basis of these rights please see the timeline on international human rights law, and for information on what governments have recognised the right in their domestic legislation please see the right to water and sanitation in national law.