On July 28, 2010, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a historic resolution recognizing the human rights to water and sanitation as “essential for the full enjoyment of the right to life.” The resolution also called on States and international organizations to provide financial resources, capacity-building and technology transfers through international assistance and cooperation, especially to developing countries to help them provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all.  Pablo Solón, then Bolivian Ambassador to the UN, introduced the motion.

Two months later, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a second resolution, adding that the human rights to water and sanitation are derived from the right to an adequate standard of living as well as the right to life and human dignity. The Council affirmed that governments have the primary responsibility for the realization of these rights and recommended that they pay special attention to vulnerable and marginalized groups, adopt effective regulatory frameworks for all service providers, and ensure effective remedies for violations.

The Council’s resolution went further than that of the General Assembly in that it specified that these rights entail legally binding obligations and declared emphatically that, “The right to water and sanitation is a human right, equal to all other human rights, which implies that it is justiciable and enforceable.”

These two resolutions represented an extraordinary breakthrough in the international struggle for the right to safe drinking water and sanitation and a crucial milestone in the fight for water justice. The resolutions also completed the promises of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit where water, climate change, biodiversity, and desertification were all targeted for action. All but water had been addressed by the United Nations with a convention and a plan. Now the stage was set to close this circle.

This paper examines what has transpired in the five years since these resolutions were adopted and what remains to be done.

Read Our Right to Water: Assessing progress five years after the UN recognition of the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation (PDF 5.8mb)

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