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Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation: Consultation with Civil Society Organizations

Geneva, Switzerland: 13-14 September 2010

Report by Linus Dagerskog

The UN independent expert on the right to water and sanitation, Mrs. Catarina de Albequerque, organized a seminar on the 13-14th September with civil society following her call for good practices in the WatSan sector earlier this year. Good practices in this case was linked to the consideration several key criteria from a human rights point of view. Some 19 presentations were given and SEI and CREPA presented the experience of the “productive sanitation approach” in Burkina Faso and Niger. This provided the opportunity to broaden the discussion and consider the important link between sanitation and the right to water and the right to food. If only access to sanitation is emphasized and treatment and reuse is ignored, sanitation systems risk to undermine water quality and food production. A dignifying paradigm shift is also possible if human excreta can be considered as something that has a value if treated and used in the right way, instead of something dirty and shameful.

There were many other interesting presentations during the seminar, which are available on line (external link). Some of these good practices will later be included in a compendium compiled by the independent expert.

The independent expert advocates for a human rights based approach in the water and sanitation sector which emphasizes non-discrimination, participation and accountability. She is also mandated to investigate the implications of water and sanitation as a human right, which has become a very important task since the recent resolution on the right to water and sanitation was announced by the UN General Assembly the 28th of July followed by the confirmation the 30th September by the Human Rights Council, that water and sanitation are part of the right to an adequate standard of living.
Her work can be followed here (external link).

IIn a recent speech to the General Assembly regarding the MDGs and the link to the human rights, Mrs. de Albequerque proved that she emphasizes the sustainability of sanitation interventions: “…pit latrines meet the MDG requirements for “improved” sanitation, but many people cannot afford to have the pits emptied correctly. This results in abandonment of use of the latrine and a return to open defecation, or hiring cheaper alternatives for cleaning the latrine pit, disposing of the contents into the nearest river or canal and jeopardizing the larger environment, as well as the water quality. Human rights provide a framework for understanding affordability or sustainability of sanitation in a more holistic fashion. Simply giving people a toilet is not the same as ensuring that they use it and maintain it. In fact, ‘latrinization’ is not the same as sanitation. Source (external link).

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Last modified: 14-jul-2011