19 October 2018: UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, Leo Heller, presented his report to the UN General Assembly (UNGA), recommending measures to ensure that countries and stakeholders can realize the human rights to water and sanitation.

The Human Rights Council previously requested Heller to identify obstacles to the full realization of those rights, and to outline good practices. The report calls for strengthening accountability in the water and sanitation sector through identifying clear roles, responsibilities and performance standards for States and other actors, providing information to affected populations and maintaining transparent decision-making processes, and promoting compliance through effective oversight systems and enforceability.

The Special Rapporteur’s report draws on consultations with States and other stakeholders through a questionnaire administered in 2017, an expert consultation held from 14-15 May 2018, and a public consultation through social media sites in June 2018.

The report presents recommendations to promote accountability for the provision of water and sanitation.

The resulting report presents recommendations for States and other actors to promote accountability for the provision of water and sanitation, and proposes a range of approaches that can be taken. For example, a national human rights institution may hold a local municipality accountable for the lack of such provision, while the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) serves to compare performance through a peer review process among governments at the national level.

In a blog post of 28 September, the World Bank argues that “progress has yet to match ambition” on realizing the human rights to water and sanitation. The authors highlight the UNGA resolution of July 2010 (A/RES/64/292), which recognizes clean drinking water and sanitation as fundamental to realizing other human rights. Noting that 844 million people still lack access to safe drinking water and 2.3 billion people do not have access to adequate sanitation, the Bank calls for a human rights-based approach (HRBA) to water and sanitation, emphasizing its importance in development planning for poverty reduction.

The authors outline the history of international recognition of the human rights to water and sanitation, including through the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) in 2003, and the 2006 release of the Sub-Commission Guidelines for the Realization of the Right to Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation. They stress that human rights principles underpin the SDGs, including SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation). [Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation] [Statement by Special Rapporteur] [UN Water Press Release] [World Bank Blog Post]