Safe and clean drinking water and sanitation: a human right essential to the full enjoyment of life and all other human rights

Placing human rights at the heart of sustainable development, and viewing the right to water as one of the most essential, Green Cross has long advocated for recognition of this right. Green Cross was among the first organizations to engage in the definition of this new socio-economic right, and quickly started promoting it through its network of national organizations. Green Cross played an important role in the first recognition of the right in French law, in 2006.

Later, in July 2010, the UN General Assembly declared safe and clean drinking water, and sanitation, a human right essential to the full enjoyment of life and all other human rights.

This was followed by a resolution of the Human Rights Council affirming that the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation is derived from the right to an adequate standard of living. It is 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.

Ghana 5 reduced

Far from closing the debate, this marked the beginning of a new phase. Forty-one countries abstained from recognizing the right to water and sanitation at the UN in 2010. Those who did still had to recognize it in their legislatures, and to make criteria such as availability, quality, acceptability, accessibility and affordability effective in their countries. A streamlined human-rights-based approach will be needed to help countries and stakeholders attain the water-related Sustainable Development Goals that the international community is setting itself in 2015.

From 2013 to 2015 GCI and GC Burkina Faso engaged in on-going advocacy efforts at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Banjul, Gambia – doing so alongside WaterAid, South Africa-based Legal Resources Center (LRC) and the Faculty of Law of the University of Geneva. A Resolution on the Right to Water Obligations was adopted by the Commission in March 2015.