Right to sanitation

The specific issue of access to sanitation has long been relegated behind that of access to drinking water.

Sanitation in the so-called developing countries, a very slow awakening of awareness

Many international texts refer to sanitation, but the understanding of what it covers is the subject of confused debates. Does it refer to access to toilets or to the treatment of wastewater and run-off water?

According to the texts, improved sanitation, basic, satisfactory, adequate or total sanitation is referred to. This proliferation of terminology gives rise to various interpretations that do not facilitate the implementation of concrete actions in the field of access to sanitation.

A great deal of progress was made at the Rio+20 Summit where the more precise concept of wastewater emerged. Nevertheless, sanitation suffers from a lack of clear definition of its content, which affects the implementation of obligations related to this essential service.

While the international community has set a target on toilets, it has not set one on wastewater management, as is the case in Europe. Many governments in so-called developing countries make commitments on sanitation with only human waste in mind, which is essential, but do not take into account agricultural and industrial waste.

Today we are still far from what a complete sanitation service should cover, i.e. the evacuation, transport and treatment of dirty water. the degree of recycling of treated waste and the possible return of the non-recycled part to the natural environment.

While ensuring access to clean water as a basic human right was included in the Millennium Commitments Declaration in 2000, it was only two years later, at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg in 2002, that a new target on sanitation emerged.

Between 2002 and 2006, progress remains slow, with the exception of North Africa. The WHO 2006 Report shows that between 1990 and 2006, the number of people without basic sanitation decreased by only 98 million. Coverage is systematically increasing more slowly in rural areas than in urban areas. However, in most so-called developing countries, migration to cities, combined with the natural growth of the urban population due to population pressure, increases the number of unserved urban dwellers.

A symbolic breakthrough came in 2008 with the proclamation by the United Nations of the International Year of Sanitation. It provided an opportunity to spotlight the efforts made by some countries and to launch several initiatives to address the global sanitation crisis, including the establishment of a UN-Water Task Force on Sanitation.

The United Nations Agenda 2030, adopted in 2015, acknowledged the central role of sanitation in sustainable development and adopted a dedicated Goal. The integrated vision of the new Programme will provide a better understanding of the linkages between the components of development.

A right to water and sanitation in the so-called developing countries, tirelessly supported by (Re)sources

"The Call to Action for Sanitation was launched in 2013 and we set ourselves the goal of ending open defecation by 2025. (…) »

Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations. November 2015

The right to water and sanitation in developing countries is relentlessly promoted by (Re)sources.

On 28 July 2010, the United Nations officially recognised access to water and sanitation as a basic human right. This recognition was complemented in September 2010 by a resolution of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, defining the means to be mobilized, the legal framework and the responsibility of States with regard to this new right, thus complementing the conclusions of Catarina de Albuquerque, independent expert of the United Nations, on the need to make access to sanitation not only a human rights imperative, but a distinct human right in itself.

On 21 November 2013, the resolution adopted by consensus at the United Nations General Assembly gave a new strong political signal in favour of the right to water. There is now an international legal act that proves the recognition of the right to water and sanitation at the international level. It is up to member countries to ratify it at their level.

On 17 December 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution that recognised for the first time the distinction between the right to water and the right to sanitation. "The human right to sanitation must enable everyone, without discrimination, to have physical and affordable access to sanitation facilities, in all spheres of life, that are safe, hygienic, secure, socially and culturally acceptable, that preserve privacy and ensure dignity." While this is an important step in the recognition of this essential service, sanitation has yet to be recognised as a complete wastewater collection and management system, not just a toilet facility.

(Re)sources, which has consistently promoted and defended the theme of the right to water and sanitation since its inception, welcomes this recognition as a first step in increasing the pressure on States.

Recommendations from (re)sources

* The rights to water and sanitation must be indivisible. The recognition of a right to water provides the means to replenish the resource. It is therefore inseparable from a long-term environmental and climatic concern.

* It is a comprehensive right - water and sanitation - at the heart of the right to health, which implies improving access, use and disposal at the same time.

* While the content of the right to water is specified - water must be safe, accessible, available, affordable and provided without discrimination - the right to sanitation requires a precise definition of what "sanitation" is, so that it can have a real content and become a reality. An effort of political will must be made to make available financial resources and public participation that are not commensurate with the little that is achieved today.