The Human Rights to Drinking Water and Sanitation in Action

Since the recognition, in 2010, of access to safe drinking water and sanitation as Human Rights by the Member States of the United Nations, important progress has been made in terms of policy formulation, legislation and regulation. In an increasing number of countries, these rights are being enshrined in national Constitutions. Yet, within these legal and regulatory frameworks, a range of actors have to play a role in ensuring the universal enjoyment by all rights-holders of access to safe, affordable, acceptable, and reliable water and sanitation services. What are these concrete actions and who should undertake them?

To provide guidance on the roles and responsibilities for everyone who contributes to the progressive realization of the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation (HRWS), and on how the human rights principles and actions can be incorporated into their essential functions, the International Water Association has developed the Manual of the Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation for Practitioners.

The Manual introduces a human rights perspective that will add value to informed decision making in the daily routine of operators of public utilities, managers of private sector companies, coordinators of public-private partnerships and NGO leaders providing water supply and sanitation services, and the independent regulators of such services. It also encourages its readership to engage actively in national dialogues where the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation are translated into national and local policies, laws and regulations.

The Manual is structured into an introductory part (chapters 1 and 3) and an operational part (chapters 4, 5, 6 and 7). Chapter 2 presents a summary of the key recommended actions for the various main actors. You can download the full manual or browse through specific chapters.

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1. Introduction

This introductory part sets the scene for understanding the original contribution of this Manual to operationalise the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation. Read more

2. Main operational principles

This chapter presents the operational principles for including human rights considerations into the daily routine of formal and informal service providers and of regulators. It provides the readership with a condensed overview of key concepts, themes, issues and actions that are of immediate relevance to them in their efforts to contribute to the HRWS. It focuses on Chapter 3, and on the main operational chapters of the Manual: 4, 5 and 6. Read more

3. Translating the HRWS into operational

This chapter introduces the human rights criteria and principles for safe drinking water and sanitation. It discusses how to bring these five normative criteria (availability, quality, acceptability, accessibility, and affordability) and five principles (equality and non-discrimination, accountability, sustainability, participation, and access to information and transparency) to expression in operational terms in a way aimed to satisfy both the human rights community and the water and sanitation practitioners. Read more

Chapter 4. An enabling environment for the HRWS

This chapter highlights the contributions that water and sanitation practitioners, public authorities and regulators can make to the creation and functionality of an enabling environment, based on their expertise and experience. They will be able to add value to the processes of formulating legislation, design of regulations and strategy development, establishing institutional arrangements and to help avoid pitfalls and unnecessary hurdles, to bridge gaps and to highlight opportunities. Read more

5. Incorporating the HRWS into the operational and institutional framework of service providers and regulators

This chapter introduces the various models of service delivery and the associated institutional arrangements specific to promoting the HRWS. It provides a checklist of issues that drinking water and sanitation operators may want to use in the process of restructuring their organisation and in negotiations with national authorities. The chapter concludes by addressing the framework for regulators to play their role in relation to respecting, protecting and fulfilling the HRWS. Read more

6. The human rights to water and sanitation in the essential functions of service providers and regulators

Chapter 6 proposes how actions supporting the progressive realization of the HRWS can be made part of the essential functions of operators, managers and regulators. It links the proposed HRWS actions to specific actors. Read more

7. Addressing sensitive practices, dealing with challenges and avoiding pitfalls

This chapter presents a number of sensitive issues, challenging conflict situations and potential pitfalls, with suggestions on how to address them. These range from technical options, affordability mechanisms, service cut-offs, credit control and debt collection, multi-criteria monitoring, setting geographical priorities for network expansion, land tenure, the use of pre-paid meters, derogations to standards and continuity of services. Read more

Annex A. Contexts and contents of the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation

Annex A provides detailed background information including a reminder of the scale of global drinking water and sanitation challenges, a description of the human rights framework, the events leading up to the adoption of the UN resolutions, an explanation of the concept of progressive realization and an attempt to straighten out some misconceptions and misinterpretations about the HRWS. Read more

Annex B. The sustainable development goals

Annex B introduces the SDG framework of goals, targets and indicators, with special reference to SDG 6. Read more

IDB Report: Regulators and human rights to WASH in Latin America & the Caribbean

A report entitled “Los reguladores y la implementación de los derechos humanos al agua y al saneamiento en América Latina y el Caribe” has been published in September 2021 to shed light on regulators and their role in the implementation of human rights to water and sanitation in Latin America and the Caribbean. The report, available in Spanish, has been published by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) with contribution from IWA.

“Los Reguladores de los servicios de Agua Potable y Saneamiento tienen gran responsabilidad en la realización de los Derechos Humanos al Agua y el Saneamiento (DHAS). ¿Hasta qué punto están siendo incorporados los DHAS en la regulación de los servicios de Agua Potable y Saneamiento de América Latina y el Caribe? Esta publicación busca identificar las tendencias en la región y las buenas prácticas que ayuden a su total incorporación.”

For more information and to download the full report, click here.

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