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Statement by Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation at the seventy-second session of the General Assembly

New York, 23 October 2017

Mr. President, Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to present my report on the realisation of the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation in development cooperation.

One year ago at the 71st session of the General Assembly, I presented my first report on this topic (A/71/302), which provided a preliminary analysis of the issue, addressing funders’ human rights approaches, the evolution of development cooperation in the sector and trends in funding patterns.

On the basis of the theoretical framework developed in the first report, in the second report, presented before you today, I have examined how funders contribute to the realization of the human rights to water and sanitation through an empirical analysis of a sample of six case studies. These studies involve six funders: France and Japan, the European Union, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank and UNICEF. This sample considered the types and regional balance of funders and their activities, as well as the relevance of funders as in the water and sanitation sector through development cooperation.

For each case, I assessed the funders’ support through grants and loans as framed, where applicable, in their normative official documents. The information was complemented by interviews with key officials at the funders’ headquarters. Additionally, I selected five projects receiving support from the six funders, to assess the funders’ operational procedures. The selection was based on a wide range of criteria, in order to include both urban and rural areas, water and sanitation interventions and grant and loan funding modalities. I personally visited all those projects and complemented the research through review of project documents and interviews with implementers, beneficiaries and operational teams.

Analytical framework

For the overall assessment of the report, I developed the concept of  “human rights development cycle” as an analytical framework, understanding this cycle as a comprehensive way for funders to safeguard and implement the human rights to water and sanitation in their cooperation activities. In this framework, stages are identified where funders can place guarantees and safeguards to ensure that their development cooperation will fully incorporate human rights, entrenching human rights in each particular stage and in an integrated approach throughout all stages.

I will present my assessment of how funders incorporate the human rights to water and sanitation following the four stages of the human rights development cycle, namely through funders’: (1) policy framework, (2) operational tools, (3) project selection, design and implementation and lastly, (4) project assessment and monitoring.

1. Policy framework

Similar to the broad conclusion reached in my first report, I observed that the explicit commitment to human rights in the six funders’ policies constitutes a heterogeneous patchwork. While some funders’ policies incorporate the human rights framework, particularly the human rights to water and sanitation, others are only sporadically aligned with those rights and reveal varying degrees of clarity regarding their application to development cooperation. However, even in cases where the human rights framework is adequately incorporated in funders’ policies, I observed significant gaps in the application of this framework during project implementation. The root causes of such gaps are varied, including the absence of a human rights approach in the project selection and design stages.

Relating to the funders’ policies, I would like to recommend that:

  • they incorporate the standards and principles of the human rights to water and sanitation in their entirety so that those rights are reflected when setting priorities and strategies for development cooperation activities;
  • funders establish a specific strategy on water and sanitation in accordance with the human rights framework;
  • funders emphasize the human rights to water and sanitation of specific groups, such as women and girls, persons with disabilities and indigenous peoples;

2. Operational tools

A variety of operational tools were observed among the different funders, some with greater relevance to the human rights to water and sanitation than others.

I would like to emphasize that operational tools can be used to guarantee that development cooperation projects will have positive impacts on human rights, depending on at least two factors. First, tools based explicitly on the human rights framework will naturally be more apt to incorporate all relevant standards. Recognizing that water and sanitation projects are part of broader, dynamic contexts that can limit a given project’s results, such tools must ensure adaptability in order to maximize the progressive realization of the human rights to water and sanitation and other related rights. Second, mainstreaming the use of such tools by operational teams involved in project implementation will avoid the risk of standards being applied selectively.  

Relating to funders’ operational tools, I would like to recommend that funders:

  • Translate the human rights commitments inscribed in their policies into operational tools that are tailored to the realization of the human rights to water and sanitation in particular contexts;
  • Make the use of such operational tools a requirement in all funding operations to guarantee the complete application of the human rights framework at the project implementation stage;

3. Project selection, design and implementation

Development cooperation for the water and sanitation sector entails human rights impacts as early as when funders decide how to dedicate resources to projects. The way in which a given funder balances the types of projects that it supports can be a proxy of how human rights concerns are considered in that funder’s development agenda. Geographical balance — between world regions, States and areas within a State; between countries with different levels of development; or between urban, peri-urban and rural dwellers — can influence the impact of the agenda on human rights. The same can be considered in relation to projects focusing on water, sanitation, hygiene, capacity-building or institutional support. Also, the allocation of funds through loans versus grants can have an impact on the progressive realization of the human rights to water and sanitation and affect the funders’ capacity to influence project goals.

Applying human rights pre-assessments in the design stage of a project is essential to ensuring that it will embody the human rights framework from its objectives and methods §through to its implementation. The specific measures to effectively implement that approach must be customized based on the nature of the project. Possible measures include establishing human rights standards as a requirement in project conceptualization and other due diligence measures that enable funders to identify and avoid the negative impact of their activities on human rights.

While most funders’ project are focused on the attainment of project objectives and sustainability of services, a specific human rights based assessment during and upon completion of projects was not observed in the studied cases.

In this connection, I would recommend that funders:

  • Balance water and sanitation projects and coverage of those interventions between urban and rural areas in a way consistent with the progressive realization of the rights to water and sanitation in each context;
  • Ensure that the selection, design and implementation of projects apply the framework for the human rights to water and sanitation, notably prioritizing those people in the most vulnerable situations;
  • Ensure that the design and implementation of projects are carried out in a transparent manner with the participation of related stakeholders, providing ample access to relevant information and including mechanisms to address the accountability of funders;
  • Ensure that projects reconcile a sustainable financing strategy for long-term service provision with affordable access to services for all persons;

4. Project assessment and monitoring

During my research, I learned that funders have project assessments and long-term portfolio monitoring in place at some steps of their development cooperation operations. However, those processes are still seldom aligned with the human rights framework.

In particular, I would like to highlight the need for balance in processes and outcomes, in addition to outputs. Indeed, funders and partner States must make equal efforts to identify and address the systemic and often cross-sectional determinants of particular phenomena, such as the discrimination of certain groups in access to services, while rigorously gathering data and monitoring such complex development issues. Furthermore, I would like to emphasize the importance of having an open discussion on and identifying obstacles to incorporating the human rights framework in all development policies, programmes and projects. Good practices in overcoming such obstacles should also be shared.

From the standpoint of the human rights development cycle, thorough assessments and monitoring based on the rights to water and sanitation can provide essential feedback on previous stages in the cycle. Notably, funders should collect and generate data to identify potential concerns for the relevant human rights principles and standards that are not being adequately safeguarded through the funder’s policy, operational tools and projects. Those data should assist funders in making adjustments to the previous stages of the human rights development cycle.

Relating to project assessment and monitoring, besides reaffirming several recommendations provided in my first report, I would like to present the following recommendations for funders:

  • Develop and systematically produce thorough assessment and monitoring based on the human rights framework, including during and after the project implementation;
  • Improve existing project assessment protocols by adjusting their scope, methods for data collection and indicators, including human rights principles;
  • Monitor, on a long-term basis, project outputs and outcomes through indicators and qualitative analyses based on the human rights framework; and
  • Prepare studies that assess all stages of the funder’s activities in the human rights development cycle, envisaging the application of the related findings to improve the funder’s contributions to the realization of the human rights to water and sanitation;

Before concluding, I would like to highlight that the extent of the research carried out for the report is not fully reflected in the report due to word limits. Thus, in the interest of providing further insight into the results of the case studies, I have prepared a brief on each of the funders which are available on the webpage of my mandate. Complementing the human rights analysis that was applied throughout the report, the funder briefs reflect the standard approach that was adopted in obtaining and analyzing the data available on each funder. Each brief has been reviewed by the respective funders and incorporates their comments.

Furthermore, I would like to take the opportunity to express my appreciation to the six funders for their cooperation relating to the research for the report.

In conclusion, I would like to express my interest in continuing the dialogue throughout this coming years and providing further inputs to ensure that development cooperation is strongly improved in terms of its contribute to the realisation of the human rights to water and sanitation.

Thank you for your attention.