About water and sanitation

Access to safe drinking water and sanitation are internationally recognized human rights, derived from the right to an adequate standard of living under Article 11(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

On 28 July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a historical resolution recognizing “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights” (A/RES/64/292). Furthermore, since 2015, the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council have recognized both the right to safe drinking water and the right to sanitation as closely related but distinct human rights.

International human rights law obliges States to work towards achieving universal access to water and sanitation for all, without any discrimination, while prioritizing those most in need. In guiding the implementation by States, key elements of the rights to water and sanitation are elaborated by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in its General Comment No. 15 and in the work of the Special Rapporteur on human right to safe drinking water:

  • Availability: The water supply for each person must be sufficient and continuous to cover personal and domestic uses, which comprise water for drinking, washing clothes, food preparation and personal and household hygiene. There must be a sufficient number of sanitation facilities within or in the immediate vicinity of each household, and all health or educational institutions, workplaces and other public places to ensure that all the needs of each person are met.
  • Accessibility: Water and sanitation facilities must be physically accessible and within safe reach for all sections of the population, taking into account the needs of particular groups, including persons with disabilities, women, children and older persons.
  • Affordability: Water services must be affordable to all. No individual or group should be denied access to safe drinking water because they cannot afford to pay.
  • Quality and safety: Water for personal and domestic use must be safe and free from micro-organisms, chemical substances and radiological hazards that constitute a threat to a person’s health. Sanitation facilities must be hygienically safe to use and prevent human, animal and insect contact with human excreta.
  • Acceptability: All water and sanitation facilities must be culturally acceptable and appropriate, and sensitive to gender, life-cycle and privacy requirements.