The Human Rights Council proclamed that “the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation is derived from the right to an adequate standard of living and inextricably related to the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, as well as the right to life and human dignity.”
The Council relied on several legal instruments, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as the source for the right.
According to the resolution, “approximately 884 million people lack access to improved water sources . . . and . . . over 2.6 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation, and . . . approximately 1.5 million children under 5 years of age die and 443 million school days are lost every year as a result of water and sanitation-related diseases.” This, the Council noted, is alarming and needs immediate attention.
The resolution adopted clarifies three key points.
1. Duties: States (public authorities) have the primary responsibility to ensure realisation of this right, irrespective of the operators, internal or external, that they use to deliver it.
2. Means: Public authorities have the possibility to choose "non-State" actors, (private companies, entrepreneurs, NGOs, community-based organizations and State-owned companies) to provide safe drinking water and sanitation as they see appropriate. Their responsibilities when using any of these service providers are the same.
The resolution:
- Reaffirms that States have the primary responsibility to ensure the full realization of all human rights, and that the delegation of the delivery of safe drinking water and/or sanitation services to a third party does not exempt the State from its human rights obligations;
- Recognizes that States, in accordance with their laws, regulations and public policies, may opt to involve non-State actors in the provision of safe drinking water and sanitation services and, regardless of the form of provision, should ensure transparency, non-discrimination and accountability;
3. Legal Framework: Further to the recognition of the right by the UN General Assembly in July and the work of the UN in Geneva over the last decade, the legal basis of the right to water and sanitation is made explicit.