5 years into the Human Right to Water and Sanitation, Where are we?

Posted on 16/02/2016 by Tim Brewer and Elisa Dehove (WaterAid UK)


Monitoring progress is essential to the protection and implementation of human rights. It increases transparency, participation, informs policy and programming, and holds states accountable. 5 years into the adoption of the Human Right to Water and Sanitation (HRWS), the international community is still struggling to find the right approach to effectively monitor this right.

Have the indicators been finalized?

Last time WASHwatch looked into the monitoring framework of the HRWS, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN OHCHR) was developing indicators, which would guide states in this monitoring exercise. We are now in 2016 and the UN OHCHR proposal to follow a human right based approach to monitoring was adopted. It includes structural, process and outcome indicators.

  • Structural indicators are meant to identify whether or not states have the policies and regulations required to provide an enabling environment for the realization of the HRWS. It should be noted however, as highlighted in the new GLAAS report, that gaps between policy and reality are not uncommon.
  • Process indicators, which seek to monitor states methods of delivering water and sanitation services in consideration of human rights principles (i.e. non-discrimination, participation, etc.), are vital to understanding the application of human rights based approaches to water and sanitation delivery.
  • Outcome indicators, which measure actual access to water and sanitation within defined attributes (i.e. safe, affordable, sufficient, etc.), are necessary to monitoring true experiences of the HRWS within states. To date, global WASH monitoring mechanisms have focused predominantly on outcome indicators.


Are countries recognising the human right to water and sanitation in legislation?

GLAAS 2014 results indicate that nearly three-quarters of countries (70 out of 94 respondents) recognize the human right to water in their constitution or other legislation and over two-thirds of countries (63 out of 94 respondents) recognize the human right to sanitation. Results indicate that progress on the recognition of the human right to water and sanitation in legislation has been seen in recent years. Seventeen of the 63 countries that have adopted the human right to sanitation have passed legislation recognizing this right between 2010 and 2013.



In 2015, Burkina Faso also recognized the right to sanitation in its constitution


But besides taking legislative action, are country really delivering water and sanitation services in consideration of human rights principles?

What is really hard is to monitor whether governments are delivering services in a way that doesn’t discriminate, and allows everyone to participate in planning and prioritising

Despite political support for universal access, less than one quarter of the 94 countries reported having universal access targets for sanitation and fewer than one third of countries had universal access targets for drinking-water.

The proposed indicators for the SDGs which the JMP working groups developed go a long way towards addressing the issues of monitoring the Human Right, but important elements of those proposals have yet to be taken up formally in the SDG process. The ideal outcome will be the comprehensive monitoring of all elements of the human right through national systems, and integrated with global aggregation for the SDGs.

To do this, SDG monitoring will need to include structural and process indicators, (currently possible under the banner of the ‘means of implementation’ indicators, and using the GLAAS monitoring survey) and disaggregated outcome indicators that cover both disadvantaged groups and vulnerable people such as those in hospital or children in school. These issues are being discussed within the JMP and IAEG now.

Tim Brewer (Policy Analyst - Monitoring and Accountability) and Elisa Dehove (Policy Officer - Monitoring and Accountability) work for WaterAid UK.

Other recent development
On 17th December 2015, the United Nations General Assembly passed and adopted the resolution on the human rights to water and sanitation, recognizing the distinction between the right to water and the right to sanitation, making it a huge step in the prioritisation of sanitation. Read more

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