Equitable access to water and sanitation is still a challenge for Europe, according to the latest information from the World Health Organization (WHO)-UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (JMP). Thirty-one million people in Europe do not have access to basic sanitation, 48 million people do not have piped water at home, and more than 300,000 people still practice open defecation, mainly in the countryside. The JMP is reporting its findings in the lead-up to the 10th anniversary of the Protocol on Water and Health, an international instrument supported by UNECE and WHO-Europe.
UN agencies launched the report titled ‘The Human Rights to Water and Sanitation in Practice: Findings and lessons learned from the work on equitable access to water and sanitation under the Protocol on Water and Health in the pan-European region’ at the 5th session of the Meeting of the Parties (MOP-5) to the Protocol. The findings were generated through self-assessment by 11 countries that UNECE and WHO-Europe support to implement the Protocol: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, France, Hungary, North Macedonia, Moldova, Portugal, Serbia, Spain and Ukraine. The report notes that the Protocol acts as a mechanism for implementing the SDGs, particularly SDG 6 on clean water and sanitation, and countries have been involved in developing and applying guidance and tools to support equitable access to water and sanitation.

There is “a long way to go” on action to improve equitable access to water and sanitation.

Some of the findings reported by countries in their self-assessment include a lack of human rights awareness among public officials, discrimination against Roma minorities, and lack of facilities for menstrual hygiene at public venues. UNECE noted there is “a long way to go” on action to improve equitable access to water and sanitation, which would promote achievement of SDG targets 6.1 on clean water and 6.2 on sanitation. 

Countries have taken concrete measures to achieve the Protocol, for example:

  • Hungary amended its National Building Code to reflect minimum requirements and standards for access to water and sanitation in buildings;
  • France and Portugal included provisions to ensure affordability of water and sanitation services in law or policy;
  • North Macedonia is improving menstrual hygiene facilities in cafes, bars and restaurants in the city Skopje; and
  • the city of Castelló in Spain has installed seven new public drinking water fountains.

To promote equitable access, the report recommends that countries: reduce geographical differences in the services provided; prevent discrimination or exclusion of vulnerable and marginalized groups in the provision of services; and ensure financial affordability of services.