OHCHR and the rights to water and sanitation

“Water is a basic human right and is fundamental to human dignity… Today, three in ten of the world’s people have no access to safe drinking water. Six in ten lack safely managed sanitation services. If people cannot enjoy their right to water, they cannot enjoy their right to life.”

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,
19 March 2019, Statement at World Water Day: “Leave No One Behind”

Globally, 2.1 billion people lack access to safe, readily available water at home, and 4.5 billion people lack safely managed sanitation. Despite progress, significant challenges still remain for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goal 6 and in addressing huge inequalities between and within countries in accessing basic water and sanitation services.

Achieving the 2030 Agenda and its promise of ‘leaving no one behind’ requires a people-centred focus grounded in international human rights; an integrated approach among the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development; and partnership among all stakeholders. Addressing the challenges of the SDG 6 requires a paradigm shift – water should be regarded not just as a natural resource to be managed and used, but as a fundamental human right to which all people are entitled without discrimination.

Key aspects of human rights to water and sanitation

Access to safe, affordable and reliable drinking water and sanitation services are basic human rights. They are indispensable to sustaining healthy livelihoods and maintaining people’s dignity. Human rights to water and sanitation are essential for eradicating poverty, building peaceful and prosperous societies, and ensuring that ‘no one is left behind’ on the road towards sustainable development.

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. The key elements of the rights to water and sanitation are:

  • availability;
  • accessibility;
  • affordability;
  • quality and safety; and
  • acceptability.

Learn more about the human rights to water and sanitation.

Our work on water and sanitation

UN Human Rights works, in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights, to promote the practical realization of human rights to water and sanitation and the human rights-based approach to the implementation of SDG 6. We aim to achieve this through:

Key documents

Fact Sheet No. 35 on the right to water

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Frequently Asked Questions on the rights to water and sanitation

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Latest publications and resources

World Water Development Report 2019: The United Nations World Water Development Report launched 19 March 2019 during the 40th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), and in conjunction to the World Water Day, demonstrates how improvements in water resources management and access to water supply and sanitation services are essential to addressing various social and economic inequities, such that ‘no one is left behind’ when it comes to enjoying the multiple benefits and opportunities that water provides.

Eliminating discrimination and inequalities in access to water and sanitation (2015): This policy brief aims to provide guidance on non-discrimination and equality in the context of access to drinking water and sanitation, with a particular focus on women and girls. PDF: English

View all publications and resources

Latest news

More press releases and statements

Archived news
(over 3 years old)


Volkan Bozkir, President of the 75th session of the General Assembly sends a message on World Toilet Day
19 November 2020
Watch on UN Web TV

We need water to survive
6 April 2020
Watch on YouTube

Water is a human right
17 February 2016
Watch on YouTube