What are the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation?
Who has a human right to safe drinking water and sanitation?
What are the human rights principles and criteria?
Who is responsible for realising these rights?
What are the obligations of development cooperation agents?
What is a human rights-based approach and how is it different from other development practices?
What is the added value of working with a human rights based approach?
What are Aid Effectiveness Principles?
The human rights based approach and IWRM?
What are the human rights 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 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 Rapporteurs on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque and Léo Heller. In resolution 70/169, the UN General Assembly for the first time addresses water and sanitation as two separate human rights. Among others, the resolution contains a definition of both rights, welcomes Goal 6 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted few months earlier, and dedicates two paragraphs specifically to sanitation and one to gender-issues.
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 rights to water and sanitation in their constitutions, laws, policies and courts.
The human rights to water and sanitation are 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 rights 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 time frame, 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 rights to water and sanitation provide 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.
2. Who has human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation?
Human rights are the inalienable fundamental rights to which each person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being. Human rights are conceived as universal (applicable everywhere) and egalitarian (the same for everyone). They embody the basic standards without which people cannot realize their inherent human dignity.Recognising access to safe drinking water and sanitation as a human right therefore means that everybody is entitled to this right.This implies that states must take concrete steps to ensure its realisation for all people. In this process, the principles of non discrimination and equality demand that States prioritise the needs of marginalised and vulnerable individuals and groups. This will include analysing whether existing practices are discriminatory – both those explicit in laws, and those stemming more from social and cultural habits – and ensuring that legislation, policies and programmes are reformed to address this discrimination.
3. What are the human rights principals and criteria?
The CESCR defined the human rights to water in General Comment No. 15. Subsequently, the guidelines of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in 2006, the report on the issue of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2007, and the work of the Special Rapporteur since 2008, are important contributions to the clarification of the meaning of this right.
In resolution 70/169, the UN General Assembly addresses for the first time water and sanitation as two separate human rights. Among others, the resolution contains a definition of both rights, welcomes Goal 6 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted few months earlier, and dedicates two paragraphs specifically to sanitation and one to gender-issues.
Human rights criteria (availability, quality, acceptability, accessibility and affordability) and human rights principles (non-discrimination, access to information, participation, accountability and sustainability) precise the content and scope of the right and guide its implementation process. All these elements give meaning to the human rights to water and sanitation, and must be taken into account for its implementation.
In this section we will explain what each of these criteria and principles mean and provide examples of their practical application.
The human rights to water and sanitation mean that water must be available in sufficient quantities for personal and domestic uses – cooking, drinking, personal and household hygiene -, with these uses being prioritised over water uses like agriculture and industry. Likewise, a sufficient number of sanitation facilities must be available.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 50 to 100 litres per person per day is an adequate quantity of water to meet health requirements.
Helvetas Assistance to Improve Water Availability in Nepal
The Water Resources Management Programme (WARM-P) by Helvetas Nepal has been designed to use the limited water resources at a community’s disposal as efficiently as possible, with water for personal and domestic use prioritised. Helvetas works with the communities, local NGOs and local government, including representatives of the regional offices of the Department of Water Supply and Sewerage of the Government of Nepal to develop Water Use Master Plans that incorporate drinking water and sanitation projects. Representatives from each household jointly identify all available water resources in the area, assess all the water-related needs of the people and the desired uses, such as drinking, irrigation and hydropower. The community then discusses possible water projects and agrees on a priority list of the identified projects, with technical consultants available to assess the feasibility of the community’s plans and recommend the most suitable technical solutions for the finalization of the Water Use Master Plan. Key to the programme’s sustainability is the inclusive nature of the planning and the links into the government structures.
See Good Practice Nepal
Water must be safe for consumption and other uses and not threaten human health. Sanitation facilities must be hygienically and technically safe to use, which means that they must effectively prevent human, animal and insect contact with human excreta. To ensure hygiene, access to water for cleansing and hand-washing after use is essential. States enjoy a relative margin of discretion to establish quality standards while following WHO standards.
A Toolkbox for Safe Water Provisioning
Hydrosanitas has developed an interactive global knowledge base for water treatment solutions. This toolbox of alternative approaches to safe water provisioning, specifically to rural and remote environments, has proven to be a successful instrument for identifying options and making informed decisions. Through the coordination of currently fragmented information into a single accessible knowledge base, individuals, community leaders, drinking water quality practitioners, funding agencies, policy makers, governments, businesses and other stakeholders, from both developed and developing countries, will be able to participate knowledgeably in decision-making for water provisioning. Over time, it is expected that the application of these strategically integrated solutions will have a significant impact in reducing illness from water-related diseases in vulnerable communities around the world.
Water and sanitation facilities and services must be culturally and socially acceptable. Depending on the culture, acceptability can often require privacy, as well as separate facilities for women and men in public places, and for girls and boys in schools. Facilities will need to accommodate common hygiene practices in specific cultures, such as for anal and genital cleansing. Also women’s toilets need to accommodate menstruation needs. In addition to safety, water should also be of an acceptable colour, odour and taste.
NGO Support to Improve Sanitation Acceptability in Tanzania
Assisting women and girls in managing menstrual hygiene is an issue addressed by the Tanzanian NGO Water and Environmental Sanitation in a school’s sanitation project. The aim is to contribute to improving the ability of girls reaching puberty to effectively manage menstruation with dignity and confidence and hence remain in school. Teacher sensitization and lesson planning for supporting girls in menstrual hygiene management is available for use across Tanzania. WaterAid India has piloted the manufacture by local women of sanitary towels, as a more hygienic alternative to using rags.
Water and sanitation services must be accessible to everyone in the household or its vicinity on a continuous basis, as well as in schools, health-care facilities and other public institutions and places. Physical security must not be threatened during access to facilities.
There is no physical access when you have to travel a distance of more than 1 km
or when it takes more than 30 minutes return trip. (WHO)
Civil Society Support to Achieve Water Accessibility in Pakistan
In the province of Baluchistan in Pakistan, there is an interesting example of ensuring access to water for drought affected people. Baluchistan has the lowest access to water and sanitation indicators in Pakistan and is badly affected by drought due to the fact that the water level decreased significantly. Youth Activist Groups of Loralai Area Water Partnership prioritized this issue, collected money from local philanthropists and bought a mobile water tanker for the purpose to provide free drinking water to drought affected areas. This project is running successfully and the people receiving drinking water on a daily basis are only paying an affordable fee of 300 rupees per household per month, so as to cover the fuel expenses, maintenance expenses of the water tanker and the driver’s salary. Thanks to community contribution and ownership, this project is based on self-help and is self-sustained.
Access to sanitation and water facilities and services must be done at a price that is affordable for all people. Access to sanitation and water must not compromise the ability to pay other essential necessities guaranteed by human rights, such as food, housing and health care.
That water must be affordable does not mean that water should be free as a rule, but that no person can be deprived of the right to water for economic reasons. UNDP proposes that household spending in water does not exceed 3% of family income.
Water Operators Ensuring Water Affordability in Portugal
In Portugal, a study by the Water and Waste Services Regulation Authority (ERSAR), the Portuguese regulator, showed that the uptake of connections to existing wastewater infrastructure was slower than expected due to the high cost of connection. While in average it only represents 26% of the monthly income, for low income households in some municipalities the cost of connection can reach three times their monthly income. To ensure water affordability, ERSAR has recommended service providers to eliminate the connection charge and compensate this loss of revenue by increasing the fixed part of the tariff gradually over a five-year period. In this way, all users will contribute to pay for the cost of connecting the unserved. ERSAR has developed a set of indicators to benchmark the performance of the more than 300 service providers. Starting in 2011, the set of indicators includes a macro-affordability indicator that tracks, for each municipality, the cost of consuming 10m3 of water as proportion of average household income. Color ratings are given to municipalities: “green” when the cost is below 0.5% of household income, “yellow” when it is between 0.5% and 1%, and “red” when it is above 1%.
Non-discrimination is central to human rights. Discrimination on prohibited grounds including race, colour, sex, age, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, physical or mental disability, health status or any other civil, political, social or other status must be avoided, both in law and in practice. In order to address existing discrimination, positive targeted measures may need to be adopted. In this regard, priority must be given to the most marginalized and vulnerable to exclusion and discrimination. Services must also be technically safe and take into account the safety needs of people with disabilities, as well as of children.
A Public Private Partnership to Address Non Discrimination in West Africa
The West Africa Water Initiative, a public-private partnership funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, compiled a list of solutions proposed by people with physical disabilities themselves to access and use hand-pumps, transport water for domestic use, and access and use latrines. Solutions take into account the extent and type of disabilities, age, gender and marital status, education and livelihood. Regarding pump use solutions encompass improved handles to facilitate grasping while pumping. For latrine improvement solutions include improved or concrete flooring, technologies which help avoid the need to sit directly on the latrine hole, handles or support devices to assist in squatting, and devices to aid blind persons in locating the hole.
This includes the right to seek, receive and impart information concerning water issues. To reach people and actually provide accessible information, multiple channels of information, that consider cultural communication preferences, have to be used. Moreover, capacity development and training may be required – because only when existing legislation and policies are understood, can they be utilised, challenged or transformed.
The Role of Education Bodies in Access to Information on Water Governance in Mexico
Since 2005, the Mexican Institute of Water Technology has developed a series of workshops in rural and urban communities to promote gender analysis and women participation in integrated water management and policy. The results of those workshops are published in the Women’ Blue Agenda which highlight issues relating to water for domestic purposes, irrigation and environmental protection, and makes a strong connection between land rights and access to water. Based on these agendas, the workshops seek to contribute to the proposals for public policy advocacy, laws, regulations as well as participatory mechanisms to promote a greater role for women, as well as gender equity, in integrated water management and policy.
Processes related to planning, design, construction, maintenance and monitoring of sanitation and water services should be participatory. This requires a genuine opportunity to freely express demands and concerns and influence decisions. Also, it is crucial to include representatives of all concerned individuals, groups and communities in participatory processes. Poor people and members of marginalized groups are frequently excluded from decision-making regarding water and sanitation, and hence their needs are seldom prioritized. Community participation in the planning and design of water and sanitation programmes is also essential to ensure that water and sanitation services are relevant and appropriate, and thus ultimately sustainable.
States Integrating Participation in the Senegal River Basin Management
A participatory approach for the design of the water development and management master plan (SDAGE) in the Senegal River Basin involved 33 facilitators speaking the local language to ensure the greatest participation of the local population. This program allows the popularization of the principles of SDAGE, the ownership by field stakeholders and the recognition of their contributions. It shows that the population can actually contribute to the water resources politics when the messages and objectives are made clear to them. Furthermore, a strong on-the-field support is necessary, complemented with an ambitious media strategy (radio spots etc.).
The realization of human rights requires responsive and accountable institutions, a clear designation of responsibilities and coordination between different entities involved. States should be held accountable for meeting these obligations and ensuring that non-State actors respect them. Persons or groups denied their HRTWS should have access to effective judicial or other appropriate remedies, like courts, national ombudspersons or human rights commissions.
A National Legal Framework for Accountability in Honduras
The Framework Law of the Water and Sanitation Sector of Honduras (Framework Law), enacted in 2003, is based on the policy of decentralization of public management in the country. It assigns responsibility for the provision of water and sanitation services to municipal governments and to the administrative boards of water, JAAP, (with technical assistance from the Central Government), which are subject to regulation and control by the Regulatory Body of the Water and Sanitation Services (ERSAPS). The Framework Law requires a broad citizen participation in the entire process of service delivering. In order to fulfil its mandate, the ERSAPS, with the support of the Swiss Cooperation, designed and established a strategy based on the creation of two local instances: a Local Unit for Monitoring and Control (USCL), which is an instance of citizen participation, with monitoring functions of the services provision, control of requests and claims of the users of water and sanitation services; and a Municipal Commission of Water and Sanitation (COMAS), responsible for the planning and coordination of the WatSan Sector actions, at the municipal level. The figure of a technical officer in regulation and control (TRC) was also created, responsible for informing the ERSAPS, through its web site, on the management of the providers of the WatSan services; this figure is in operation since the year 2011.
The human rights obligations related to water and sanitation have to be met in a sustainable manner. This means practices have to be economically, environmentally and socially sustainable so that future generations can enjoy the right too. The achieved impact must be continuous and long-lasting.
NGOs support for Sustainable Water Governance in Peru
The WWF-CARE Consortium has successfully managed a programme, which addresses biodiversity conservation while promoting livelihood improvements among poor upstream communities in Peru. The Equitable Payments for the Watershed Services programme proposes an innovative financing mechanism linking poor communities upstream (service providers) with public/private water users downstream (service buyers). Communities changed from subsistence to sustainable agriculture by restoring/conserving ecosystem integrity. Local, regional and national Governments have included this innovative financing mechanism for conservation and development as part of their governance strategy. Appropriation of the programme concept and methodology by the government and its scaling up and replication is ensuring long-term sustainability.
All the above elements (human rights criteria and principles) give meaning to the human right to water and sanitation, which must be respected, protected and fulfilled by States, who are primarily responsible for guaranteeing fundamental human rights.
1. Source: C. de Albuquerque – United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, with V. Roaf, “On the Right Track. Good practices in realising the rights to water and sanitation”, 2012, p.113.
2. For more information : http://www.inweh.unu.edu/Health/VM.htm
3. For more information : http://www.twesa.org/
4. Source: C. De Albuquerque with V. Roaf (see fn.2), p.140.
5. Source: C. De Albuquerque with V. Roaf (see fn.2), p.85. For more information : http://www.ersar.pt
6. For more information : http://www.hiltonfoundation.org/wawi
7. For more information : http://www.wsscc.org/sites/default/files/publications/norman_washdisabilities_ruralafrica_2010.pdf
9. For more information : http://www.solutionsforwater.org/solutions/participatory-approach-for-the-design-of-a-water-development-and-management-master-plan-sdage-in-the-senegal-river-basin
4. Who is responsible for realising these rights?
· The obligation to respect
States must refrain from interfering with existing access (obligation to respect). Development projects, such as a hydroelectric power plant, cannot take place without a previous impartial impact assessment study to determine that the right to water of the population is not affected.
· The obligation to protect
States must equally prevent third parties – as for example private companies or NGOs – from interfering negatively with the enjoyment of human rights of others (obligation to protect). Importantly, the State cannot exempt itself from its human rights obligations by involving Non-State actors in service provision. Even in these situations, the State is the primary duty bearer of human rights obligations and has an obligation to adopt measures – like ensuring proper regulation – to make sure that Non-State actors comply with human rights standards. On the other hand, Non-State actors must comply with the laws and regulations of the country in terms of a general legal obligation: they have a basic responsibility to respect human rights. To that end they must assess the actual and potential impact of their activities on the realization of the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation before and while undertaking their activities through the exercise of due-diligence “to become aware of, prevent and address adverse human rights impacts”.
· The obligation to fulfil
Finally, they must adopt the necessary measures to enable and assist individuals to enjoy their human rights and to ensure direct provision as a last resort, when individuals are, for reasons beyond their control, unable to provide for themselves (obligation to fulfil).
Among other necessary measures States must take to realize their human rights obligations, they must develop, implement and monitor a national strategy and/or a water and sanitation action plan in accordance with, and for the realization of, human rights criteria and principles. In that respect, human rights are the goals and guiding principles in development efforts: a human rights-based situation analysis is the basis for identifying priorities and action. The plan of action ensures that the human rights criteria (availability, accessibility, quality, affordability, acceptability) and principles (non-discrimination, participation, access to information, accountability and sustainability) are taken into account throughout the process, as well as develop the capacities of rights-holders to claim and realize their human rights and of duty-bearers to meet their obligations. Non-State actors are then expected to coordinate their activities with those by the State to ensure coherent and sustainable water and sanitation governance.
5. What are the obligations of development cooperation agents ?
Development partners are understood in this section as both State and Non-State actors. They can be State actors in the cases of bilateral and multilateral governmental development agencies and Non-State actors in the cases of national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Private Sector. Among them the Toolkit is meant to specifically address bilateral development cooperation and international and national NGOs insofar as they are meant to assist the State in its mission.
· Obligations of State Actors
As to bilateral cooperation agencies, human rights treaties and declarations reflect clear requirements for States to cooperate with and assist each other mutually. The principle of international cooperation is established in the UN Charter and in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
In accordance with the obligation to respect, States must not negatively affect the human rights situation in their partner countries. They also have an obligation to ensure that third parties involved in the delivery and implementation of their development assistance (e.g. private contractors and technical advisers) do not interfere with the enjoyment and realization of human rights in partner countries (obligation to protect). Under the obligation to fulfil, they should ensure that their assistance facilitates the ability of each developing country to comply with its own human rights obligations. As explicitly affirmed by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, international projects and approaches should contribute not only to economic growth and other broadly defined objectives, but also to enhancing enjoyment of the full range of human rights, in particular economic, social and cultural rights.
· Obligations of Non-State Actors
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in its General Comment No. 15, also refers to the obligations of non-state actors, which are:
• Cooperate effectively with state parties in all matters related to the implementation of the right to water
• Incorporate human rights standards and principles in programmes and policies
• Give priority in the provision of aid, distribution and management of water and water facilities to the most vulnerable or marginalised population groups.
· Coordination between State and Non-State Actors
It is well established that, from a human rights perspective, States can opt to involve Non-State actors in sanitation and water services provision. But the State cannot exempt itself from its human rights obligations and hence remains the primary duty-bearer. Therefore, also when involving other actors in services provision, the role of the State is crucial. The obligations of States and the responsibilities of non-State actors are complementary. Other development actors can and should support the State in the realization of human rights.
Coordination of Non-State actors’ activities with States’ activities is a key element in development cooperation, in line with aid effectiveness principles and especially the principle of aid alignment (See below,8). According to the principle of coordination, development partners are expected to synchronise their activities with the national water and sanitation plan of action to ensure coherence and synergy in water and sanitation governance. Though coordination is not a human rights principle, it is a key principle in this Toolkit because coordination with States is at the core of development partners’ intervention.
6. What is a human rights based approach and how is it different from other development practices?
Human rights-based approach (HRBA)
Using a human rights-based approach (HRBA), development partners should direct their programmes to promote and protect human rights- based on agreed international human rights standards and principles. The approach seeks to identify groups and people whose rights are being violated, understand why certain people are unable to enjoy their rights, and redress unjust distributions of power that impede development progress. In this sense it identifies rights-holders and their entitlements and corresponding duty-bearers and their obligations, and works to strengthen the capacity of duty bearers to comply with their obligations and right holders to claim and exercise their rights. In that respect, human rights are the goals and guiding principles in development efforts: a human rights-based situation analysis is the basis for identifying priorities and action. The plan of action ensures that the human rights criteria (availability, accessibility, quality, affordability, acceptability) and principles (non-discrimination, participation, access to information, accountability and sustainability) are taken into account throughout the process, as well as develop the capacities of rights-holders to claim and realize their human rights and of duty-bearers to meet their obligations. Non-State actors are then expected to coordinate their activities with those by the State to ensure coherent and sustainable water and sanitation governance.
This section schematically presents the major differences between approaches followed by development partners and the theological and instrumental rationale for a human rights-approach.
Comparative Highlights between Human rights, Charity and Needs-based approaches
Source: Danish Institute for Human Rights, “Applying a Rights-based Approach.
An Inspirational Guide for Civil Society”, 2007, 10
7. What is the added value of working with a human rights based approach?
While human rights embody legally binding obligations and need no instrumental justifications, there is increasing evidence that a human rights-based approach cannot only promote inclusive development processes, but also helps to fight inequalities and promote sustainable development results.
- Realizing the human right to water has been recognized internationally as a legal obligation. It means that equitable access is a non-negotiable legal entitlement, rather than a commodity or service provided on a charitable basis.
- Human rights provide a legitimate internationally agreed framework for legal, policy reforms.
- Working with a human rights-based approach means going beyond service delivery and addressing inequalities which lie at the heart of the current levels of lack of access. Without such an approach the response is likely to be disconnected from the causes of the lack of access and ill-adapted to contributing to its resolution on a durable basis;
- Improving the human rights to water and sanitation will advance other human rights, such as the right to education, health, food, housing, an adequate standard of living and freedom from discrimination;
- Human rights can help create the necessary political commitment, social mobilisation and international aid to reach universal and sustainable access to drinking water and sanitation.
- The human rights framework can help achieving a greater and more sustained impact of development interventions.
8. What are Aid Effectiveness Principles?
In 2005, 90 States and 26 multilateral organizations adopted the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and committed to harmonize their agenda to align it with national priorities. The 5 “aid effectiveness principles” (ownership, alignment, harmonization, result-based management and mutual accountability), reaffirmed in the 2008 Accra Agenda for Action, are part of a major global aid reform aimed at securing country ownership of the development agenda at national and local levels.
In support of harmonization, the human rights framework is common to both donors and host States. International human rights obligations constitute a mutually agreed, universal normative framework, supported not only by political guarantees, but also by the force of legal obligations to which donors and recipient States are committed to (mutual accountability). Within this common framework, donors must channel support through countries’ own institutions and procedures (ownership). They must ensure that changes in the delivery and management of aid will support, or at least not undermine, the realization of human rights, especially for those groups whose rights are most often denied (result-based management). As to host States, they must ensure that the “national development agenda” donors must align with and integrate a human rights-based approach (alignment). In practice, the national poverty reduction strategy, national water and sanitation strategy and the integrated water resources management plan do not always integrate human rights standards and principles. There may be a human rights plan of action, but most often with only few or no references to water and sanitation. This situation makes it even more important to reassess the complementarity and coherence between aid effectiveness and human rights principles.
Aid effectiveness principles and human rights are therefore mutually strengthening. Human rights principles enhance a democratic process that is fundamental to ensure meaningful and inclusive citizen-based ownership as promoted in the Paris Declaration. The other way around, the Paris Declaration promotes a model of partnership that improves transparency and accountability in aid management to produce sustainable development outcomes.
9. The human rights based approach and integrated water resources management (IWRM).
Since the 1992 Dublin and Rio conferences, Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) has gained international recognition. The concept is now the worldwide model for water management. It has been a key component in the recent trend of national water reforms in most countries. The Global Water Partnership defines it as a “process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources in order to maximize economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems and the environment”.
Access to water resources is central to the enjoyment of different human rights, such as the right to food and the right to livelihood. Realizing the human rights to water and sanitation means that water resources are managed so as to protect water as sources of drinking water and that safe water must be available in sufficient quantities for personal and domestic uses– cooking, drinking, personal and household hygiene, with these uses being prioritised over water uses, like agriculture and industry. It also means that every person has the rights to get information and effectively participate in water policy making. A HRBA makes all duty-bearers accountable for the observance of human rights, including river basin agencies.
The main discordance between the two concepts is probably the recognition of water as an economic value by IWRM, while a HRBA recognizes water as a social and cultural good. Although a properly applied IWRM will ensure social equity in the allocation of water resources, in practice economic efficiency can trump equity. The divergent appraisal of water as an economic or a social good can create divergences between IWRM and HRBA, especially in relation to the criteria of water availability and affordability.
Articulating IWRM and HRBA has the potential to give clear direction for government and organization working in the water sector. By definition IWRM and HRBA share similar principles: participatory approach, non-discrimination, accountability, sustainability and transparency.
A human rights-based approach to water resources management ensure that focus is primarily to fulfil human rights commitments and that legal requirements are in place to ensure the provision of access to water and sanitation to all (shift from needs to entitlement in the right). The HRBA gives a precise, accurate, verifiable and legal definition of what is an acceptable access to water and sanitation.
Similarly, a HRBA will benefit from an IWRM approach in using successful planning tools and success stories that incorporate every aspect of water management. A solely WATSAN approach that mainly focuses on immediate needs to provide access to water and sanitation is likely to not fully address the human rights to water and sanitation, especially in regard to environmental and economic sustainability, thus compromising social sustainability.