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Message from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for the 2019 SMM

25 Mar 2019


Water and sanitation are fundamental human rights without which survival itself and the fruitful enjoyment of all other human rights are threatened. The right to water and sanitation plays a central role in realizing permanent solutions for refugees.

However, due to limited resources, and restrictive legal, policy or administrative practices, by the end of 2018, only 35% of refugees had access to safely managed drinking water supply located on premise. This figure compares rather poorly to the global average, which is 71% of the population.

In terms of sanitation, the situation for refugees is even more concerning. Only 17% have access to their own household toilet, which compares starkly with the global average of 39% of the global population having access to their own household toilet and safely managed sanitation services.

That 2.1 billion people worldwide live without safe water, and 4.5 billion people cannot access safely managed sanitation at home is a grave matter indeed. But the fact is refugees are not only being ‘left behind’, very often they are left furthest behind of all, despite the aim of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, to ‘ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’ by the year 2030.

In December 2018, the Global Compact for Refugees was affirmed by the United Nations General Assembly, and it is particularly relevant for the sustainable provision of water and sanitation services to refugees and hosting communities.

The Global Compact for Refugees seeks to ease pressures on countries that host large numbers of refugees. It recognizes the need for more coordinated approaches to refugee responses, where crisis-driven humanitarian responses are complemented and reinforced by stabilization efforts that include development and urban planning interventions.

On 17-18 December 2019, UNHCR will organize the first Global Refugee Forum. This Forum is one of the key mechanisms in the Global Compact on Refugees for achieving greater responsibility-sharing for refugees and host communities, and provides an avenue for galvanizing pledges and contributions from States and other Stakeholders towards access to water and sanitation services.[1] In particular, pledges in the following areas could be considered:

  • Reliable local data, which is essential for planning and decision making. Access to disaggregated demographic data is key to understanding who lives where and, more importantly, their basic needs. Where appropriate, UNHCR can play a support role in collecting and mediating the handover of data to public institutions.
  • The promotion of equality of access to basic water and sanitation services for both refugees and host communities, for example through inclusion in national development and financing plans for WASH services is key.

The Global Refugee Forum will be held at the ministerial-level and will also involve the participation of a wide range of stakeholders. UN Member States and other stakeholders will be invited to announce their pledges and showcase good practice at the Forum.


[1] Further information regarding the Global Refugee Forum can be found at: