UN recognises right to sanitation as a distinct human right

Geneva: In a bid to combat open defecation, the UN has adopted a landmark resolution recognising the human right to "sanitation" as a distinct human right along with the right to safe drinking water, a move hailed by experts.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

"The right to sanitation is an essential component of the right to an adequate standard of living, inextricably linked to the highest attainable standard of health, and integrally related to the human right to water," said Waleed Sadi, Chair of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

"The explicit recognition of the human right to sanitation and the human right to water reaffirms that sanitation has distinct features which warrant its own separate recognition and treatment from water in some respects," he said in a press release.

The UN General Assembly in New York on Thursday adopted by consensus a resolution that recognises "the human right to sanitation entitles everyone, without discrimination, to have physical and affordable access to sanitation, in all spheres of life, that is safe, hygienic, secure, socially and culturally acceptable and that provides privacy and ensures dignity."

"This is a significant step taken by all United Nations member states to address the right to sanitation on an equal footing with the right to water," said Leo Heller, UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to water and sanitation.

The experts said that governments tend to focus more on water rather than on-site sanitation like pit latrines and septic tanks still widely used with the result that individual households are responsible for managing the entire systems, including collection and disposal, without government support.

The sanitation goal under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was one of those missed by the widest margins among all the 18 targets, as over 2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation and about a billion people, that is nine out of 10 people in rural areas, practice open defecation across the world.

In India, the country with the highest number of people practicing open defecation, the problem is acute with about 590 million people relieving themselves in the open and every year over 200,000 Indian children die of diseases such as diarrhoea, also transmitted through human waste.

"We urge all member states, in both their national budgeting and international development cooperation, to target the allocation of resources to sanitation in particular to the most marginalised and disadvantaged groups and individuals, as those living in urban informal settlements and in rural areas," the experts said.


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Updated Date: Dec 18, 2015 20:25:16 IST

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