Right to water and sanitation is legally binding, affirms key UN body

A young boy getting a drink of water from an open pipe.

1 October 2010 – The main United Nations body dealing with human rights has affirmed that the right to water and sanitation is contained in existing human rights treaties, and that States have the primary responsibility to ensure the full realisation of this and all other basic human rights.

While the General Assembly declared in July that safe and clean drinking water and sanitation is a human right essential to the full enjoyment of life and all other human rights, this is the first time that the Human Rights Council has declared itself on the issue.

“This means that for the UN, the right to water and sanitation, is contained in existing human rights treaties and is therefore legally binding,” said the UN Independent Expert on human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque.

“This landmark decision has the potential to change the lives of the billions of human beings who still lack access to water and sanitation,” she said of the resolution adopted yesterday by the Geneva-based Council.

Almost 900 million people worldwide do not have access to clean water and more than 2.6 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation. Studies also indicate about 1.5 million children under the age of five die each year and 443 million school days are lost because of water- and sanitation-related diseases.

The Assembly’s resolution recognized the fundamental right to clean water and sanitation, but did not specify that the right entailed legally binding obligations.

The Council closed this gap by clarifying the foundation for recognition of the right and the legal standards which apply, according to a news release.

“The right to water and sanitation is a human right, equal to all other human rights, which implies that it is justiciable and enforceable,” said Ms. de Albuquerque. “Hence from today onwards we have an even greater responsibility to concentrate all our efforts in the implementation and full realization of this essential right.”


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General Assembly declares access to clean water and sanitation is a human right

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