Human Rights Council affirms Right to Safe Drinking Water & Sanitation

The UN Human Rights Council made history again yesterday, by adopting a resolution affirming access to safe drinking water and sanitation as a human right.

This resolution built on a sister resolution that had declared the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation in July at the UN, in the context of the 64th session of the UN’s General Assembly. This resolution, however, was adopted by consensus with the remarkable change in position by the US, which shifted from traditionally abstaining from supporting such language to joining the consensus in Geneva.
“This should put an end to the theoretical debate on whether access to safe drinking water and sanitation is a human right, says Marie-Laure Vercambre, GCI Water Programme Leader. “Green Cross has been promoting this for years and we gladly welcome the shift in position of the US. This is really a breakthrough that should be outlined.”
Presented by Spain and Germany, sponsored by 34 other countries and adopted by 46 member States of the Council (the UK disassociated from the consensus), this new resolution establishes once and for all that the Right to safe drinking water and sanitation is derived from other legally recognised human rights such as the right to an adequate standard of living and the right to life and human dignity.
The passing of this resolution took place just days after the UN Summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in New York where Heads of States and delegations gathered to assess progress in their achievement of the MDGs and adopt a global action plan.
“Recognizing that water is a human right is not merely a conceptual point,” said GCI Founding President Mikhail Gorbachev. “It is about getting the job done and actually making clean water widely available. We must clarify the obligation of governments to finance and carry out projects that bring these services to those who need them most.”
“The summit reaffirmed that approximately 884 million people still lack access to improved water sources and 2,6 billion to basic sanitation. The unbearable truth is that 1,5 million children die every year of waterborne diseases”, added Vercambre.
This resolution not only consolidated the legal basis for enforcing access to water and sanitation as Human Rights, it also drew from the latest report of the Independent Expert Catarina de Albuquerque. The report “on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation” clarifies the responsibilities of States and non-State service providers in providing water and sanitation.
Efforts should now be fully targeted at enforcing those rights in national legislations and action plans. Among other things, the resolution asks States to ensure transparency, non-discrimination and accountability regardless of the form of provision of water services. It calls upon them to develop appropriate tools and mechanisms to progressively achieve the full realization of the human rights obligations related to safe drinking water and sanitation. It demands that States should ensure that non-State service providers fulfil their human rights responsibilities throughout their work.
Full resolution text
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