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Human Rights

Access to water and sanitation are recognized by the United Nations as human rights, reflecting the fundamental nature of these basic needs in every person’s life. Lack of access to safe, sufficient and affordable water, sanitation and hygiene facilities has a devastating effect on the health, dignity and prosperity of billions of people, and has significant consequences for the realization of other human rights, and for social and economic development.

Several national constitutions (e.g. Bolivia, Kenya, South Africa) enshrine the right to water and / or sanitation, and national legislation generally outlines the responsibility of the State to ensure access to safe drinking water and sanitation for all. National courts have also adjudicated cases related to the enjoyment of the human rights to water and sanitation, covering issues such as the pollution of water resources, arbitrary and illegal disconnections, and inadequate access to sanitation.

The human rights to water and sanitation are among SWA’s Guiding Principles, and at the core of all the SWA partnership’s work a reactions that promote human rights principles: equality and non-discrimination, participation, access to information and accountability.

These include promoting transparency in all activities, supporting multi-stakeholder discussions to ensure that all voices are heard and respected, and implementing policies that reduce inequalities, such as through strategies to eliminate open defecation.

Human rights inform SWA’s Mutual Accountability Mechanism, a platform for SWA’s partners to make commitments through multi-stakeholder processes, based on national plans and targets to reach the SDGs, particularly SDG6.

10 years of the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation

2020 marked the tenth year since the UN General Assembly adopted the resolution 64/292, which explicitly recognized the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation (HRWS).

To celebrate this milestone SWA designed communication materials to support partners and other stakeholders in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector, on how the recognition of the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation has a positive impact on the lives of many around the world.

Share. Inform. Empower.

The human right to safe drinking water and sanitation was first recognized by the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council aspart of binding international law in 2010.

Studies in Africa and Asia show that the poorest 20% of the population spend between 3 to 11% of their household income on water. This calculation does not include the cost of the time women spend on collecting water and managing water and sanitation facilities.

The human right to sanitation was explicitly recognized as a distinct right by the UN General Assembly in 2015.


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View all Key documents
Key documents Type
Briefing Paper: Leaving No One Behind
Briefing Paper: Integrity, Accountability and Transparency
HR Manual: 9 - Sources
HR Manual: 8 - Checklists
HR Manual: 7 - Principles
HR Manual: 6 - Justice
HR Manual: 5 - Monitoring
HR Manual: 4 - Services
HR Manual: 3 - Financing
HR Manual: 2 - Frameworks
Human Rights Council

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.

His Majesty King Willem-Alexander

I passionately believe that this shocking and humbling reality [lack of access to water and sanitation] must be overturned, so that all people can live better lives, in health, dignity and safety. I am convinced that the rights to water and sanitation have a significant contribution to make.

His Royal Highness, The Prince of Orange, Chair of UNSGAB
Michelle Bachelet

Inequalities stir grievances and unrest; fuel hatred, violence, and threats to peace; and force people to leave their homes and countries. Inequalities undermine social progress, and economic and political stability. But human rights build hope. They bind humanity together with shared principles and a better future, in sharp contrast to the divisive, destructive forces of repression, exploitation, scapegoating, discrimination.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights