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Issue No.: 574 | April 2015
 

The Right to Sanitation as a Human Right

B. N. Mehrish
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Sanitation is a "fundamental component of improved living conditions and physical health”.

Within the human rights arena, there is a linkage between water and sanitation. In countries like India and some African countries, such as Sudan there is acute shortage of water. Every human being needs water to survive, and needs to live in conditions in which diseases-causing elements are kept below a level where the immune system defences can fight off infection and illness.

Although some early civilizations linked water and sanitation, in the current century a technological revolution such as the flush toilet and the sewer trap has become one of the most significant developments in human history.

The effects of ever-increasing populations and ineffective means of meeting sanitation needs are being felt on unprecedented scale. Millions of people in India are living without adequate means of meeting their daily sanitation needs, with the expected adverse consequences to their health and quality of water around them.
In the late twentieth century, the concept of a human right to sanitation began to emerge as a potential tool to address this severe problem that affects the daily lives of people. Articles 11 and 12 of the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights provide the initial basis of legally binding obligations at the international level, though the ICESCR does not explicitly refer to sanction sanitation but instead recognizes a right to "an adequate standard of living…”  

Around the turn of the 21st century, scholars viz. Keri Ellis, a volunteer instructor in International Human Law with the American Red Cross, a Law Commissioner of the World Conservation Union and persons working with human rights groups began to argue that a right to water and sanitation must be implicit with more stated rights to be achieved, particularly right to food and health. Sanitation is a "fundamental component of improved living conditions and physical health”. 

In 1977, sanitation was explicitly included in the convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against women, pertaining as to rural women. Many who live in suburbs of metropolis Mumbai, Delhi, Gurgaon (Haryana) do not have access to adequate sanitation.

Sanitation received attention during 2008, which was declared by the United Nations as the International Year of Sanitation. Two significant international developments for the right to sanitation took place in 2010. 

  1. A UN General Assembly resolution recognizing a conjoined human right to water and sanitation, and; 
  2. Affirmation by the Human Rights Council that right to water and sanitation derives from the right to life and the right to human dignity. Few countries namely Uruguay, Algeria, Colombia, South Africa have explicitly recognized a right to sanitation within their constitutions. Efforts are being made by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi to change the status quo of sanitation in India. Will he succeed in his endeavour to improve the living standards of people and achieve his vision of Swachh Bharat? 

Healthcare for All is still far from reality. 

DR. B. N. MEHRISH, Retired Professor of Politics, University of Mumbai, now a Gurgaon resident.
brijesh.mehrish@gmail.com
 
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The Right to Sanitation as a Human Right

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