Much has been made of the human right to water; it's a concept I wholeheartedly support. But what about a human right to sanitation? Clean water and sanitation are virtually inseparable in my mind.
I have posted on the human right to health but not specifically on sanitation.
When considering the right to sanitation it is worth noting that there are more than twice as many people in the world without access to sanitation (c. 2.5 B) than there are who lack access to clean water (c. 1.1 B) .
The UN Independent Expert on human rights obligations and water and sanitation, Ms. Catarina de Albuquerque, has submitted her report on sanitation to the UN Human Rights Council for its next session in September.
In her report, the Independent Expert reviews the inextricable links between sanitation and a range of human rights, such as the rights to an adequate standard of living, to health, and to education. She outlines a definition of sanitation in human rights terms, and elaborates the content of human rights obligations related to sanitation.
Here is a copy of her report: Download A.HRC.12.24.AEV
She makes a number of recommendations. The first two:
· States are encouraged to support legal and political developments at all levels towards broader recognition of sanitation as a distinct human right · States must abide by their human rights obligations related to sanitation at all times, including in emergency situations, in disaster response and during conflict
· States are encouraged to support legal and political developments at all levels towards broader recognition of sanitation as a distinct human right
· States must abide by their human rights obligations related to sanitation at all times, including in emergency situations, in disaster response and during conflict
I obtained this flyer from the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE):
It's very informative, summarizes the legal basis, and also defines governments' obligations. My free-market friends will be pleased to learn that the human right to sanitation does not require governments to provide such service free of charge.
I believe there should be a human right to sanitation. Eight countries already recognize this right: Uruguay, South Africa, Honduras, Bolivia, Algeria, Bangladesh, Kenya, and Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, some of these countries don't strike me as good role models.
Will the recognition of such a right make things better overnight? Of course not. What will it do? Here is a list (borrowing some words that Peter Gleick used for a human right to water):
- encourage individual countries/NGOs to renew/increase their efforts in this area;
- more likely lead to pressure to transform this right into legal obligations and responsibilities to provide access to sanitation;
- focus attention on the desperate need for sanitation; and
- help establish priorities for meeting sanitation needs.
Like the human right to water, the human right to sanitation is a principle whose time is nigh.
"The inextricable links between sanitation and so many human rights mean that international human rights law requires States to ensure access to sanitation that is safe, hygienic, secure, affordable, socially and culturally acceptable, provides privacy and ensures dignity in a non discriminatory manner. However, only looking at sanitation through the lens of other human rights does not do justice to its special nature, and its importance for living a dignified life.” -- Catarina de Albuquerque, from her report.