Friday, 30 July 2010

UN adopts right to water and sanitation: Who, why, and where next?

Georgina Rannard
End Water Poverty

As previously blogged, this week saw the UN General Assembly vote in New York on the right to clean and safe water and sanitation. We have gathered some analysis of the vote to share what was said, and what this means for organisations around the world campaigning for water and sanitation, as well as next steps.

In the vote on 28th July, 122 countries voted yes to the resolution, and 41 abstained. The majority of yes votes were from developing countries, although there were some European exceptions such as Germany. Broadly, West African and South Asian countries voted in favour, with East Africa and Southern Africa abstaining or absent. See here for detail

The resolution to recognise the right to clean and safe water and sanitation is non-binding, but does call on countries to offer greater financial investment and technology to increase access to clean water and sanitation for everyone. Positively, it refers to the ongoing work of the Independent Expert on human rights obligations related to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque, who will lay out the legal and political process to claim the right to water and the separate right to sanitation.

Political tension relating to access to water is always fierce, reflecting the scarcity of the resource. Abstentions were generally due to concerns that the resolution was inappropriately pre-empting the report of the Independent Expert, and did not lay out detail of the right to water and sanitation, Some countries such as the UK claimed, “there is no sufficient legal basis for declaring or recognizing water or sanitation as freestanding human rights”. You can read an explanation by the US , who called for the vote. We can hope that these doubts will be relieved when the Independent Expert reports to the Human Rights Council in 2011.

What does this development actually mean for organisations working for water and sanitation or for those working on rights-based approaches to development? Things won’t improve overnight, but the vote does push us another step along the road to establishing water and sanitation as distinct human rights. Those organisations working in countries that supported the resolution have another strong advocacy tool, and should hopefully be able to use their government’s support for rights to water and sanitation to lobby and deliver more results on the ground. There is some hope that this latest resolution will further strengthen the focus on water and sanitation at the Millennium Development Goals Summit in New York in September.

For now, we can look forward to the report by the Independent Expert. As well as writing on the right to water, Catarina reported in 2009 that there are “clear human rights obligations related to sanitation because it is inextricably linked to, and indispensable for, the realization of many other human rights”. The report to the Human Rights Council in 2011 should lay out countries' obligations related to water and sanitation development work, and hopefully lead to all countries affirming the right to water and sanitation.

2 August 2010

Simavi have also blogged about the vote, and what it means for the right to water and sanitation.

United Nations reco
gnises right to safe water and sanitation as a human right - a welcome political signal but without real clout

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