Freshwater Action Network
– grassroots influencing on water and sanitation

Rights - how can they really make a difference?

Louisa Gosling, WaterAid's Programme Support Advisor
On Tuesday 5th June, I took part in a fascinating webinar on the implementation of the human rights to water and sanitation hosted by the World Bank and the Rural Water Supply Network. 
During the webinar, we asked Catarina de Albuquerque, (the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Water and Sanitation) a series of extremely provocative questions about what the human right to water and sanitation actually means in practice, and how it can really make a difference to people’s lives on the ground.
These questions emerged from a three-week long online discussion that we moderated through the equity and inclusion theme of the RWSN, led by WaterAid. This discussion was very lively. There were some contributions from people who are extremely optimistic about the recognition of water and sanitation as human rights. They feel that this presents an tremendous opportunity to bring an added political and democratic dimension to the process of getting access for all. Many people contributed examples of how this can make a difference.
On the other hand some contributions articulated a concern that having rights is all very well in theory but how can it really make a difference? How can it help people address the huge constraints of lack of capacity, lack of resources and corrupt governments? Doesn’t it just raise expectations without bringing new solutions to a problem people have been grappling with for years?
Tuesday’s webinar took the form of an interview in which Kerstin Danert from RWSN and myself took it in turns to ask Catarina six key questions that encapsulated the main issues raised in the online discussion.  
  1. What are the rights and responsibilities of citizens with respect to the human right to water?
  2. Can you explain the importance of embedding the human right to water in national legislation, and what can be done in countries where there is not an enabling environment for human rights?
  3. How can rights make a difference when it comes to implementation, to the financial resources as well as management and technical capacity to achieve sustainable water and sanitation for all?
  4. Can you tell us more about existing and new mechanisms for accountability with respect to progressive realization of the Human Right to Water?
  5. What are the rights and responsibilities of the private sector within the human right to water?
  6. What does the Human Right to Water mean in terms of quantity of water, quality and sustainability and what is the time frame to realize this right?
Catarina responded to each of these questions and then to further questions posed by the people participating in the webinar. Even when she was not able to provide a definitive answer she was able to show the human right can indicate a way forward.
So watch this space!


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