Human Rights to WASH: Step One, Awareness

by | Feb 1, 2019 | Blogs

The lack of access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) is not just an infrastructure issue, but the result of inequalities, lack of evidence-based planning and further marginalisation of the most vulnerable in policy documents. Capacity building and awareness raising amongst key stakeholders is the first step towards the realisation of the human rights to water and sanitation. To further this cause, Freshwater Action Network South Asia’s (FANSA) Odisha chapter organised a workshop on ‘Water Governance and Human Rights’ in Bhubaneshwar (India) with the support of Switzerland-based human rights law and policy organisation, WaterLex and Odisha Human Rights Commission.

This multi-stakeholder workshop had two key agenda items to raise awareness for Human Rights to Water and Sanitation:

  • Improve the realisation of the access to safe water and adequate sanitation by strengthening the capacities of State Human Rights Commissions in accordance with the human rights framework to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6. Particularly by:
    – Increasing competencies of the State Human Rights Commissions and other key stakeholders on water governance and monitoring to input into policies, especially in relation to marginalised and vulnerable populations.
    – Identify country/local level specific gaps and challenges as it relates to achieving access to safe water and adequate sanitation within the human rights context and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
  • Advance collaboration between the State Human Rights Commissions, civil society, government line ministries and other WASH actors.
FANSA Odisha Chapter
Photo: FANSA’s Odisha Chapter

To push for inclusive governance policies, WaterLex’s Director General, Amanda Loeffen, introduced the legal framework for human rights to water and sanitation at the workshop. Legal obligations to ensure equality and end discrimination are the key foundations of every treaty. She believes that incorporation of human rights principles in national legal frameworks and monitoring processes would help accelerate progress towards the SDG’s ‘leave no one behind’ agenda.

For the realisation of the ambitious definition of safely managed WASH services, both government ministries and CSOs have a unique mandate to push for strong monitoring and accountability mechanisms at both national and regional levels. Therefore, various monitoring frameworks connected to SDG6 such as WHO/UNICEF’s Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP), Integrated Monitoring Initiative (GEMI) and Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking (GLASS), were shared at the workshop. Only through resilient accountability mechanisms could the five Ps of sustainable development be realised:

  • People (end poverty and hunger in all forms and ensure dignity and equality)
  • Prosperity (ensure prosperous and fulfilling lives in harmony with nature)
  • Peace (foster peaceful, inclusive and just societies)
  • Partnership (implement the agenda through a solid global partnership)
  • Planet (protect the planet’s natural resources and climate for future generations).
Fansa's Odisha Chapter
Photo: FANSA’s Odisha Chapter

As water is one of most interconnected components of SDGs, the workshop also discussed the importance of monitoring the WASH agenda across all 17 goals with a special focus on education, health and climate-related goals. The workshop concluded with a discussion on current national and state realities concerning access to water and sanitation. It explored best practices and solutions to remove key bottlenecks and gaps in governance policies. During the workshop, major policy initiatives were shared in the 2017 Water Plan and Urban Sanitation Strategy by the Ministry of Water and Sanitation.

With the support of WaterLex, the participants received technical training on the human rights to water and sanitation and participated in interactive open discussions. The participants included the representatives from the Odisha Human Rights Commission, National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, CSOs, WASH service providers, local education institutions and the media.

From this workshop, the following action plan was created for the realisation of human rights to water and sanitation with a view to leave no one behind:

  • Increased advocacy efforts by CSOs and research and learning institutions are required for effective law enforcement and implementation of programmes; inclusive planning and strong monitoring processes could play a crucial role in realising the human rights principles (accessibility, affordability, availability and acceptability).
  • Sensitisation programmes for bureaucrats at the state, district and sub-district level should be conducted to disseminate information about the ‘leave no one behind’ agenda.
  • Evidence-based policy planning and implementation would help in bringing the voices of the most marginalised communities to the forefront. Hence, sample surveys should be conducted at regular intervals and shared with the policy makers, implementers and beneficiaries.
  • Harmonisation is required among WASH-related ministries and departments to strengthen collaboration in achieving the ambitious SDG6.
  • To make sure information about rights to WASH is not lost in translation, provisions should be made to translate the rules and regulations of Human Rights Convention in local languages to distribute among the people.
  • All communities including women-led organisations, village heads and tribal communities should be made aware of their rights to water and sanitation, to leave no one behind.
  • Sensitising of news agencies to advocate for human rights to water and sanitation as WASH issues are not prioritised in the media.