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Published on: 16/11/2015

Burkina Faso. World Toilet Day 2014 celebrations. Photo: Celeste Flores / IRC Uganda

Several countries including The Netherlands have submitted a draft resolution to the United Nations on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation [1].  A group of 37 NGOs, including IRC, have issued a joint statement in support of the resolution [2].

The Netherlands is one of the countries that have called for the inclusion of water and sanitation as human rights in the design of targets and indicators for the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These rights are a key element of Dutch development policy on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) [3].

Focus on sanitation

The NGOs especially applaud the use of the plural “human rights” instead of “human right” in the text. This affirmation of “the distinct nature of the two rights to water and sanitation will help advance specific focus on sanitation”. This focus on adequate sanitation “is often lacking from both states and donors”.

The lack of sanitation services negatively affects women’s lives on a daily basis. Recent IRC research in Burkina Faso shows how women’s rights to health, education, safety, and dignity are breached by the lack of latrines [4]. Gender-based approaches, focussing on the role and needs of women and girls, are highlighted several times in the draft UN resolution.  

Real commitment needed

Another positive aspect of the resolution is the clear language reaffirming that “everyone, without discrimination” should have “access to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use and […] have physical and affordable access to sanitation, in all spheres of life, that is safe, hygienic, secure, and socially and culturally acceptable and that provides privacy and ensures dignity”.

The draft resolution also reaffirms that “States have the primary responsibility to ensure the full realisation of all human rights”. The NGO statement urges that states actually commit to taking steps to release the humans rights to water and sanitation and not merely “endeavour to take steps” as mentioned in the draft resolution.


[1] UN General Assembly. 70th Session. Draft resolution A/C.30/70/L.55, 2 Nov 2015.

Submitted by following countries:

Armenia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Jordan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Morocco, Netherlands, Panama, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

[2] Joint NGO Statement of Support on the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation. Human Rights Watch, 10 Nov 2015


Amnesty International
arche noVa
Blue Planet Project
Center for Women's Global Leadership, Rutgers University
Clean Water for North Carolina
Council of Canadians
End Water Poverty
European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU)
Fivas-The Association for International Water Studies
FLOW (For Love Of Water)
Franciscans International
Freshwater Action Network Mexico
Freshwater Action Network South Asia
German Toilet Organization
Global Justice Clinic, New York University School of Law
Human Rights Watch
Institute for Strategic Research and Development Studies, Visayas State University
International Human Rights Clinic, Santa Clara University School of Law
KRuHA – Indonesia
Loretto Community
Medical Mission Sisters
People's Health Movement
Public Services International (PSI)
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
Sisters of Charity Federation
Sisters of Mercy (NGO), Mercy International Association: Global Action
Swarna Hansa Foundation
U.S. Human Rights Network
Viva con Agua
VIVAT International
WASH United
The Water Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
World Relief Deutschland

[3] Soest, A. van, Bostoen, K. & Uyterwaal, E., 2014. Water and sanitation as a human right (Dutch development policy on water, sanitation and hygiene : information package). The Hague, The Netherlands: IRC. Available at:

[4] Flores, C., 2015. Integrating the human right to sanitation in Burkina Faso : improving women's access to sanitation in Burkina Faso's rural areas. The Hague, The Netherlands: IRC. Available at:

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