The Human Right to Water and Sanitation

Policy Brief Published: November 2010

Millions of lives are still claimed every year, and human development is held back on a massive scale by unsafe water, inadequate sanitation and the lack of hygiene. Estimates by the World Health Organization and UN-Water indicate that improvements in sanitation and drinking water could reduce the number of children who die each year by 2.2 million (WHO and UN-Water, 2010). It is urgent to change the perception of these foundations for human life, from basic needs to entitlements.

The brief aims to identify basic challenges in implementing the human right to water and sanitation, and to guide decision-makers in some of the priorities that need to be agreed to secure safe, acceptable and accessible water for domestic purposes for everyone, notably for marginalized and vulnerable groups in society.


Access to water and sanitation – as human rights – has gained growing attention over the last few years at a global level, increasingly engaging the water sector and the international community in discussions regarding its content and implications. In 2007 the Swedish Water House put together a Cluster Group on Water and Rights, comprising a variety of actors interested in understanding the implications for policy and practice of the right to water.

Note to the Reader: In 2008 the UN Human Rights Council appointed an independent expert with a mandate to further clarify and define the obligations of states related to the right both to water and to sanitation. Furthermore, a new milestone was recently reached as the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution recognizing access to clean water and sanitation as a human right essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights. A recent trend has evolved towards recognition of sanitation as a distinct right. Safe water is not possible without functioning and sustainable solutions for sanitation. In this sense, water and sanitation are inextricably linked. But sanitation issues reach far beyond its linkages to water. We want to emphasize that this policy brief was prepared to deal mainly with access to water, and therefore its coverage of sanitation issues is limited to cases where they relate directly to water access.

How to Cite: Björklund, G and Sjödin, J (eds). The Human Right to Water and Sanitation. Securing Access to Water for Basic Needs. Swedish Water House Policy Brief Nr. 8.