1. What is the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation?

A legal entitlement

In 2010 the UN General Assembly declared the right to drinking water and sanitation as essential to the full enjoyment of life and all human rights. That same year, the Human Rights Council affirmed by consensus access to water and sanitation as a legally binding human right. These recent milestones add up to important progress in the past years, especially after recognition by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in 2002, in General Comment 15 and the work carried out since 2008 by the Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque. Human rights obligations related to access to water and sanitation are included in different human rights treaties and international humanitarian law.There is also a growing number of good practices in the implementation of this right, including many countries recognizing the human right to water and sanitation in their constitutions, laws, policies and courts.

The human right to water and sanitation is derived from the right to an adequate standard of living and inextricably related to the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, as well as the right to life and human dignity. The human right to water and sanitation entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, accessible, culturally acceptable and affordable water and sanitation services for personal and domestic uses, and which are delivered in a participatory, accountable and non-discriminatory manner. Governments are obliged to ensure that everybody gains access to these services over a considered timeframe, through creating an enabling environment, namely by adopting appropriate legislation, policies, programmes and ensuring that these are adequately resourced and monitored.

The principle of progressive realization

The human right to water and sanitation provides not only a legal framework for holding States accountable for the realization of this right, but also a set of principles, like participation and non-discrimination, that assist States in prioritising how resources should be allocated to ensure access for all. States have the international obligation to move towards the goal of universal access as expeditiously and effectively as possible, within available resources and within the framework of international cooperation and assistance where needed. This is referred to as the principle of progressive realization of human rights.The concept of progressive realization constitutes a recognition of the fact that full realization of all economic, social and cultural rights will generally not be able to be achieved in a short period of time. The concept of progressive realization constitutes a recognition of the fact that full realization of all economic, social and cultural rights will generally not be able to be achieved in a short period of time. However, , States have core immediate obligations to meet,including namely non-discrimination and the guarantee of a minimum essential amount of water, that is sufficient and safe for personal and domestic uses to prevent disease level of water (enough water to prevent dehydration and disease), as established by General Comment 3.


Implementing the Principle of Progressive Realization through Targets