Lack of access to sanitation has a profound negative impact on many human rights. Diarrhoea is one of the biggest killers of children under 5 in the world. Too often, the contents of people’ toilets are emptied into the streets, or even into nearby streams and rivers, which then serve as drinking water for the population, with devastating health consequences. Poor sanitation also has a serious impact on the right to education, with kids missing school due to water and sanitation related diseases. Girls especially drop out when there are no sex segregated toilets. Women, as the primary caregivers of sick relatives lose out on work opportunities when they stay home to care for the ill.
Despite its importance, sanitation is frequently neglected. It is not prioritized in most development aid programmes, and it receives less funding than the associated area of water. The lack of serious attention to the problem of sanitation is also evident in the absence of effective national policies, diverse and fragmented responsibilities for sanitation across government ministries, and a general lack of understanding of the positive effects of investing in sanitation.
The Special Rapporteur devoted her 2009 HRC annual report to sanitation. In the report, she asserted that there are clear human rights obligations related to sanitation because it is inextricably link to, and indispensable for, the realization of many other human rights. She also outlined a definition of sanitation in human rights terms, and explained the human rights obligations related to sanitation, as well as the content of those obligations.
The report is available in all UN languages: E F S A C R
In order to benefit from diverse views and perspectives, the Special Rapporteur organized a public consultation on the issue of human rights obligations related to sanitation on 29 April 2009.
Furthermore, in November 2010, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights issued a statement on the right to sanitation, which further explained the nature of this right.