Sanitation acknowledged as human right

For many, having access to a clean, private, safe place to go to the toilet is something taken for granted. Yet more than 2.5 billion people worldwide, one third of the world population, live in conditions that make access to sanitation precarious.

It is this large scale of the issue that has lead the United Nations General Assembly to recognise sanitation as a separate human right. The General Assembly resolution recognizes the distinct nature of the right to sanitation in relation to the right to safe drinking water, while keeping the rights together.

UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of safe drinking water and sanitation Léo Heller welcomed the news, saying that it would help governments and NGOs to specifically focus on what needs to be done to realise the right.

“It is hoped that this will have a direct impact on those women, children, people with disabilities and marginalised individuals and groups who currently lack access to sanitation…an opportunity to highlight their plight,” he said.

Lack of sanitation has a knock on effect, affecting the pursuit and enjoyment of other human rights. It obstructs the right to health and life. Poor sanitation exacerbates the transmission of infectious diseases such as cholera, typhoid and hepatitis. Lack of sanitation hampers the right to education. A recent United Nations study found that more 443 million school days are lost every year due to sanitation and water related issues. Inadequate sanitation facilities are a common barrier for school attendance, particularly for girls.

The move to making sanitation its own human right means that we can directly address the particular human rights challenges associated with sanitation, Heller said. In addition, having sanitation as its own right means that there can be change in approach and understanding, demonstrating that sanitation is not solely tied to water, he said.

“It gives people a clearer perception of the right, strengthening their capacity to claim this right when the State fails to provide the services or when they are unsafe, unaffordable, inaccessible or with inadequate privacy,” Heller said.

30 December 2015

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