Multi-dimensional challenges of ensuring sustainable water supplies

Word from the RWSN Chair:
Louisa Gosling, WaterAid

Download the latest RWSN Update in English, French or Spanish

Dear RWSN colleagues, the 4 months since the last newsletter have been eventful for the RWSN.

It has become clear that covid-19 will be with us for a long time and that people need water to stay safe. But there is still no sign of the long term investment needed to ensure services are sustainable, while the social, economic and health pressures of the pandemic are making existing inequalities worse. 28 July marked the 10th anniversary of the recognition of water and sanitation as a human right by the UN General assembly.

In his statement to mark the anniversary, the UN special rapporteur concludes: “On the positive side, the international community is well aware that it has the obligation, both moral and legal, to ensure access to safe drinking water and to sanitation for all, without discrimination (…) However, without a swift and considerable increase in the efforts currently dedicated to water and sanitation, and a better understanding of the legal and policy changes required by a human rights-based approach to water and sanitation, the international community will not fulfill the ambitious promises it has made.”

The last RWSN webinar series focused on the human right to water as more practitioners are looking for ways to use human rights commitments to leverage progress.

On the positive side, the pandemic has generated a new urgency for agencies and practitioners to collaborate and work out solutions. RWSN has supported many discussions through webinars and online forums, its members bringing a large range of skills, experience and perspectives to the challenges posed by covid and climate change.

An important milestone was the conclusion of the UPGro research on groundwater in Africa, which has released a huge amount of valuable insights about the potential of groundwater and how to unlock it – especially for the poor. This is the result of a long collaboration between institutions in the global north and global south, with RWSN as knowledge broker. Meanwhile, hugely enriching discussions about decolonising WASH knowledge have erupted on the LNOB group, triggered by Black Lives Matter.

Institutionalised power imbalances between water experts from the south and the north and the different value placed on their expertise were exposed. These dynamics are damaging in themselves and ultimately compromise the viability of solutions developed. I encourage everyone to join this discussion and to challenge the systemic discrimination that limits the potential of collaborative learning.

The role of RWSN has never been more important in jointly tackling the multi-dimensional challenges of ensuring sustainable water supplies for rural populations.

¿Cuál es la situación jurídica del agua y el saneamiento como derechos humanos? Las respuestas a sus preguntas

El 28 de julio se cumple el décimo aniversario del reconocimiento de los derechos humanos al agua y al saneamiento. 10 años y 12 resoluciones más tarde, este blog responde a preguntas frecuentes sobre el estatus legal del agua y el saneamiento como derechos humanos en la legislación internacional y nacional.

El 28 de julio se cumple el décimo aniversario del reconocimiento de los derechos humanos al agua y al saneamiento. 10 años y 12 resoluciones más tarde, este blog responde a preguntas frecuentes sobre el estatus legal del agua y el saneamiento como derechos humanos en la legislación internacional y nacional.

El 28 de julio de 2010, la Asamblea General de la ONU aprobó la resolución A/RES/64/292, que “reconoce que el derecho al agua potable y el saneamiento es un derecho humano esencial para el pleno disfrute de la vida y de todos los derechos humanos”. 122 Estados miembros de la ONU votaron a favor del texto y ninguno en contra; 41 se abstuvieron.

Continue reading “¿Cuál es la situación jurídica del agua y el saneamiento como derechos humanos? Las respuestas a sus preguntas”

Quel est le statut juridique de l’eau et de l’assainissement en tant que droits de l’homme ? Réponses à vos questions

Le 28 juillet marque le 10ème anniversaire de la reconnaissance des droits humains à l’eau et à l’assainissement. 10 ans et 12 résolutions plus tard, ce blog répond aux questions les plus courantes sur le statut juridique de l’eau et de l’assainissement en tant que droits humains dans le droit international et national.

Le 28 juillet marque le 10ème anniversaire de la reconnaissance des droits humains à l’eau et à l’assainissement. 10 ans et 12 résolutions plus tard, ce blog répond aux questions les plus courantes sur le statut juridique de l’eau et de l’assainissement en tant que droits humains dans le droit international et national.

Le 28 juillet 2010, l’Assemblée générale des Nations unies a adopté la résolution A/RES/64/292, qui « reconnaît que le droit à l’eau potable et à l’assainissement est un droit de l’homme, essentiel à la pleine jouissance de la vie et à l’exercice de tous les droits de l’homme ». 122 États membres de l’ONU ont voté pour le texte et aucun n’a voté contre ; 41 se sont abstenus.

Continue reading “Quel est le statut juridique de l’eau et de l’assainissement en tant que droits de l’homme ? Réponses à vos questions”

What is the legal status of water and sanitation as human rights? Your questions answered

28 July marks the 10th anniversary of the recognition of the human rights to water and sanitation. 10 years and 12 resolutions later, this blog answers common questions on the legal status of water and sanitation as human rights in international and national law.

On 28 July 2010, the UN General Assembly passed resolution A/RES/64/292, which “Recognizes the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights”. 122 UN member states voted for the text and none against; 41 abstained.

Continue reading “What is the legal status of water and sanitation as human rights? Your questions answered”

Regulating the WASH sector from a human rights lens – IWA/RWSN webinar

Featuring a presentation from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, this webinar aims to:

• exchange experience with and among regulatory actors and practitioners, in particular highlighting barriers and opportunities and share good practices and practical approaches to promoting and implementing the human rights to water and sanitation
• discuss the way forward for the next decade on the realization of the human rights to water and sanitation
• provide input/suggestions for the mandate of the Special Rapporteur

SIGN-UP

TYPEWebinar
DURATION60 mins
START DATE13 Feb 2020
START TIME15:00 (Amsterdam time)
LANGUAGEEnglish
FORMATPresentation, Discussion + Q&A

Target Audience

Practitioners in WASH sector, representatives of regulatory agencies

Regulatory actors have an important role in how individuals enjoy their human rights to water and sanitation. They contribute towards the enjoyment of human rights by taking measures to monitor how utilities comply with rules and standards that are in line with the human rights to water and sanitation. Further, they are responsible to ensure that utilities are held accountable for non-compliance. Such regulators are able to oversee services, and to ensure that all – especially the most disadvantaged – are provided with the services they need and deserve. Therefore, in the current world where 1 out of 3 people do not have access to safe drinking water, the role of regulation has been steadily gaining ground in the water (as well as sanitation and hygiene) sector.

It is equally important to note the challenge of regulating WASH services in rural areas and peri-urban informal settlements. In such unserved or underserved areas, many households have no choice but to turn to informal, small-scale providers that operate beyond any institutional oversight. Regulating these actors might not be an easy endeavour, but it is instrumental in guaranteeing the compliance of the services provided with human rights standards.

Learning Objectives

Featuring a presentation from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, this webinar aims to:

• exchange experience with and among regulatory actors and practitioners, in particular highlighting barriers and opportunities and share good practices and practical approaches to promoting and implementing the human rights to water and sanitation
• discuss the way forward for the next decade on the realization of the human rights to water and sanitation
• provide input/suggestions for the mandate of the Special Rapporteur

Host

IWA, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitation, WaterAid & Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN)

Panelists

  • Léo Heller UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitation
  • Kelvin Chitumbo Director, National Water Supply and Sanitation Council (NWASCO)

SIGN-UP

Make the last mile the first mile: is business the key to fulfilling human rights?

This guest blog was written by Selma Hilgersom (Simavi). The original blog post is available here and is re-published with permission and thanks from Simavi.

Last week, I attended the AGUASAN workshop. This yearly event is organised by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and joined by a broad variety of WASH practitioners. The key focus of this year’s workshop were ‘service providers that take an inclusive business approach and drive the advancement of the human right to water and sanitation’. Within the conference, six cases of young and inspiring entrepreneurs were put forward during the week and participants teamed up to dive into the business cases and assess the human rights angle of making a business out of WASH.

If anything, the week has given me a serious mind exercise on the role of the private sector in development. I have a background in the field of water technology and supporting the development of innovative business propositions. I do believe that the private sector is key in addressing global challenges. Business comes with internal drivers to guarantee the delivery of products and services that meet the demands of costumers, as entrepreneurs depend on the success of their business to generate an income. This drives efficiency, cost-efficiency and the continuous exploring smarter ways of working.

So, if business has the potential to provide everyone in the world with well-functioning WASH infrastructure, why are we not collectively entrepreneuring into the most rural areas of this world and ensuring that the human right to water and sanitation is fulfilled? And why are NGOs still funded to do a job that business can do while making money out of it?

Let’s first set the perspective straight. I work for an NGO. I am not afraid to re-consider my role in a fast-changing world. I do believe business has an key role to play in accelerating development and strengthening (business) ecosystems in-country. Especially local entrepreneurship and equal North-South partnerships can go a long way in providing people with the basic services that they need. Especially the businesses that pro-actively include women and girls and effectively respond to the needs of all members of a given community, regardless of who they are and their circumstances, seem to have the exact same goal as many NGOs. And stepping away from the ‘beneficiary perspective’ and including people as ‘costumers’ creates a different perspective. Two sidenotes: let’s try to avoid the discussion whether capitalism is the system that ensures everlasting happiness here and at the same time acknowledge that disadvantaged people benefit from a system in which they are participating as more than just ‘costumers’ that are defined by their purchasing power.

The nature of business is to ensure that there is a profit made. And from my experience in start-ups, this is a challenge when starting-up a business. The question that comes to my mind is then how feasible it is to design a self-sustaining business model targeting consumers with the least purchasing power, especially in the beginning. And whether it is possible to focus on the lower-bottom of the pyramid; even if this comes with challenges. A few examples: geography (what if a village is located at a remote mountain), reaching relatively few costumers per community, having to invest a lot in demand-creation before WASH services and products are bought. Are there smart models that make this ‘work’? Or stable financing mechanisms that can blend different revenue streams to cover the high need with the limited profitability? And how do you create a business ecosystem with local entrepreneurs to serve the people who currently lack access to WASH? What is the role and contribution of the government?
There is a broader development perspective to this too. Including ‘impact indicators’ in doing business, which reflect the aim of development work, does require extra efforts that may conflict with business interests. But results in lasting positive change in communities. Think of delivering water in a community where people are at high risk of a specific disease; is this just solved by delivering water? Or does this require the provision of additional health information and working towards improved service delivery? Or in the case that women are not allowed to decide over their own bodies, does the delivery of WASH provide an answer to the broader challenges that exist in the community?

Even if we would imagine an all-inclusive model of the private sector that perfectly responds to the needs of people, there is still one discussion that was put forward more than once during AGUASAN: (government) systems are the enablers of the success and upscaling of any business. The central question is therefore how business models fit in existing local, national and global systems? This links into the very basis of acknowledging that people have rights, and that they should be able to claim them, wherever in the world that may be.
And this is not ‘just a remark’ – it links into the issue of rightly anchoring the responsibility where it belongs: who is (or should) take the responsibility for fulfilling the human right to water and sanitation, and what is the place of the private sector therein? What to do if there is no profitable business case for providing WASH? Maybe the consideration is whether the ideal business model, if it would exist, would silence this discussion: does access to WASH equal that human rights are fulfilled? Even if this is done independently from the government, and in a profitable way? And if so, is it possible (capacity wise) to reach the 2.1 billion people (!) that still do not have safe and sustainable water delivery? Should the private sector be made responsible for fulfilling the human right to water and sanitation, if governments fail to do this?

I am not afraid of profit. I believe that businesses and NGOs both play a vital role in development. I believe in systems that are driven by (young) entrepreneurs and create a broad-range of value to consumers and are self-sustaining. There are many examples in the world where the private sectors makes a huge difference in the lives of disadvantaged people. I refer to the two amazing female entrepreneurs of Pad2Go who want to break the barriers women face in Nepal due to their menstruation (and with whom I had the honour to work with during the week). I am incredibly happy that many entrepreneurs are positive towards cooperation with NGOs. However, I also believe that this comes with a joint dream and a joint responsibility.

Often, the cooperation between NGOs and the private sector is defined by the roles ‘taking care of the business’ and ‘taking care of development’. I advocate for a more integrated business case, where investing in business and investing in development are one and the same thing. Could we agree that the success on the broader impact indicators is equally important as the development of a sustainable business model? And not from a ‘charity perspective’, but from the believe that this will increase the integrated value proposition of businesses. And thereby open up new markets and potential (impact) costumers. And a call to NGOs – can we move beyond the output, outcome and impact indicators, and join hands with those who will remain long after the funding of our NGO programmes has run out? And create built-in incentives to be as successful as we can? And not be guided by pre-set targets?

One of the things that stayed in my mind after AGUASAN is the presentation of human rights superstar Ms. Catarina de Albuquerque, who challenged us to “make the last mile the first mile”. Let’s do that. Together.

Edit from the author: I had some discussions about the extent of ‘pushing (Western) values upon local communities’, and whether businesses or even NGOs should be involved in this at all – or that we should limit ourselves to basic product or service delivery. I can write another blog on my thoughts on this. As this blog has a slightly different focus, I refer to Simavi’s aim to ensure that disadvantaged people in low and middle income countries are enabled to practice healthy behaviour based on their own free and informed decisions and free from coercion and violence. By doing this through supporting civil society to claim its rights with and through local organisations, development is no more than amplifying positive changes that start locally.

About the author

Selma holds a master degree in ‘Human Geography’ and ‘Policy and Organisation’ with a specialisation in transnational advocacy and business and innovation. She has worked in international organisations to promote and support the development of new business models, sustainable innovations and the uptake of new water technologies. Currently, she coordinates programs of Simavi in Tanzania and Nepal that aim to ensure that disadvantaged people, and especially women and girls, can live healthy lives

 

 

UN-Water report: SDG6 on Water and Sanitation will not be achieved by 2030 at current rates of progress

UN-Water has released a new report on Water and Sanitation ahead of the High-level Political Forum for Sustanainable Development (HLPF) which presents, for each target, the latest data available for the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 global indicators. The report seeks to inform discussions among Member States during the HLPF (9 July -18 July 2018) in New York. The HLPF Forum will review progress especially on G6, G7, G11, G12, G15 and G17; you can see the Official Programme here.

The key message of this report is that the world will miss the SDG6 targets by 2030 at current rates of progress. It also highlights that only 50 percent of countries have comparable baseline estimates for most SDG 6 global indicators, making it difficult to track progress. It is essential to “harmonize methods and standards”, and establish a common understanding of how to assess Means of Implementation (MoI) across SDG 6. In addition to this report, UN-Water has also set up a webpage with examples of countries sharing their experiences.

RWSN had provided some comments on the draft report which was made available by UN-Water earlier this year. By and large these comments still hold – you can find out about what we said here and our take on how the report addresses sustainability of services, accountability, self-supply, capacity development, water and energy, groundwater and public participation.

So, what does the final report say? It compiles data and information available on the SDG6 Targets, including:

  • Target 6.1: Achieve access  to  safe  and  affordable  drinking  water: There are still 844 million people who lack access to basic water services, and 2.1 billion people who lack water that is accessible, available when needed and free from contamination. The report highlights that extending access to safe drinking water for all is a “huge challenge” that will not be achieved if there is no increase in “investment from governments and other sources” and a “strengthening in institutional arrangements” for managing and regulating drinking water.
  • Target 6.2: Achieve access to sanitation and hygiene and end open defecation: There are still 2.3 billion people who lack access to basic sanitation services, and 4.5 billion people who lack safely managed sanitation services. Only 27 per cent of the population in least developed countries has access to soap and water for handwashing. Extending universal access to sanitation and hygiene won’t be achieved if there is not an increase in “investment and a strengthening of the capacity of local and national authorities” for managing and regulating sanitation systems.
  • Target 6.3: Improve water quality, wastewater treatment and safe reuse: Freshwater pollution is prevalent and increasing in many parts of Latin America, Africa and Asia. The lack of water quality monitoring in many parts of the world does not allow for an exact global estimate of water pollution.
  • Target 6.4: Increase water-use efficiency and ensure freshwater supplies: Nowadays more than 2 billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress. The agriculture sector is the largest user of freshwater; it uses 70 per cent of global water withdrawals. In the report, some techniques to save water have been presented like “increasing productivity of food crops”, “improving water management practices and technologies”, “growing fewer water intensive crops in water scarce regions”, “reducing food loss and waste”, and “importing food grown from water rich countries”.
  • Target 6.5: Implement integrated   water   resources   management   (IWRM)   including    transboundary    cooperation: While all countries have at least started implementing various aspects of IWRM, only modest progress has been made in terms of implementing a fully integrated approach. The average national proportion of transboundary basins covered by an operational arrangement is only 59 per cent.
  • Target 6.6: Protect and restore water-related ecosystems: current baseline data of the indicator “do not allow for a proper picture of the state of freshwater ecosystems”, which is why further detailed data including “quantitative, geospatial and qualitative” data are necessary.

The report also looks at the targets related to the means of implementation of SDG6:

  • Target 6.a: Expand international cooperation and capacity-building: 80 per cent of Member States have insufficient finance to meet national WASH targets. The current indicator based on ODA (Official Development Assistance) does not reflect all elements of the target. That is why it is necessary to complement with additional information relating to “capacity development, human resources and other elements”.
  • Target 6.b: Support stakeholder participation: In order to empower marginalized groups and sustainable service delivery, “local communities have to participate in water and sanitation management”. But even if the current indicator monitors the existence of policies and procedures for local community participation, it does not show if “the participation is genuine or meaningful”. This links to the recent report published by our partners End Water Poverty,  Coalition Eau, Watershed Empowering Citizens Consortium, the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) and with the support of Sanitation and Water for All (SWA), on accountability mechanisms for SDG6, and which was the focus of a recent RWSN webinar in English and Spanish.

In conclusion, the UN-Water report focuses on the enablers of the SDG6, highlighting that:

  • “Inequalities must be eliminated”. It is important to have data in order to identify disadvantage and provide services to groups like women, children, poor, indigenous people and rural communities.  You can find some recent RWSN webinars on Making Water Work for Women, and Making Rights Real for rural communities here.
  • “Private financing, promoting blended finance and microfinance” should be developed in order to optimize domestic and public finance. You can see a recent RWSN webinar on “grown up” finance for rural water here.

Photo credit: World Bank

RWSN members’ inputs on social accountability are helping Human Rights Special Rapporteur report to UN General Assembly

RWSN Secretariat Director, Sean Furey, took part in a consultation meeting on accountability in relation to Human Rights to Water and Sanitation.

by Sean Furey, Skat/RWSN Secretariat

What does ‘accountability’ mean to you? When it comes to the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation what progress has been made to ensure that Duty Bearers (Governments) are accountable to their Rights Holders (Citizens)?

Such legalistic sounding terms can seem distant from the needs of family in rural Mongolia or fast-growing city in India, but the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation form the legal back-bone to which signatory governments (which is nearly all of them) have to comply.

Léo Heller, the UN Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights to Water & Sanitation, has been running an open consultation on his forthcoming report to the UN General Assembly, which is focusing on the principle of accountability. I was honoured to be invited to attend a meeting in Geneva on 14 & 15 May on behalf of RWSN.

Like his predecessor, Catarina de Albuquerque , Prof. Heller has been collaborating with the network to engage with rural water supply practitioners so that he can communicate the global issues to those working on national and local implementation and policy, and likewise learn from the those who working to making Human Rights a reality at a practical level. This included the recent e-discussion on Social Accountability.

In his draft report, Prof. Heller drew points from this discussion, particularly regarding the accountability of non-governmental organisations:

“Participants [of the RWSN e-discussion] discussed that accountability is enhanced when reducing dependence on external funds, and through ensuring meaningful participation of citizens in all process relating to water, sanitation and hygiene processes.”

The principle of accountability as a core human rights principle does not have a set and agreed definition. The three dimensions that were used to frame the discussion were:

  1. “Responsibility” which means “what” Duty Bearers are accountable for; “who” carries out the duties; and “how” those WASH service responsibilities are done.
  2. “Answerability” is need for public officials to communicate what they are doing and why and how decisions have been taken. This is important because governments, as the Duty Bearers, are required to demonstrate the “progressive realisation”, which means maximising available resources to ensure universal access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene.
  3. “Enforceability” is about making sure that there are the mechanisms in place to ensure that rules and laws are enforced, and that there is a fair and accessible means for complaints and conflict resolution.

A lot of the discussion focused on factors and barriers to effective accountability, such as corruption and the lack of protection for whistle-blowers. It was also highlighted that civil society, and civil society organisations (CSOs), have a vital role to play in holding governments to account – not least where responsibility has been delegated to private sector service providers, community management or self-supply.

In the wide-ranging discussion it was clearer that there are lots of threats to accountability, not least because it involves changing power dynamics, which will be resisted by those in power. Defining clear roles and responsibilities is critical for accountability, which is why those are who are to be held accountable have an interest to keep such things vague.

“The fight for Human Rights is against human wrongs”

For rural water supply – as for rural issues generally in low and middle-income countries – a key problem is that formal legal processes and agencies, such as courts and lawyers, are often physically distant, expensive and not trusted. So where does that leave traditional social or religious mechanisms for conflict resolution? Do those working to extend a rights based approach work with these structures (at the risk of entrenching existing discrimination) or try to extend legal and judicial mechanisms?

What is clear is that these issues around accountability, rights and justice are not unique or special for rural water supply, or even for WASH, so it was great that in this meeting we had representatives from outside the sector, who highlighted, for example, the strong links between the Human Rights for Water and Sanitation with other Rights, including housing, food and dignity.

To keep up to date with this discussion and for opportunities to submit your ideas and experiences, follow Léo on Twitter.

20180515_122720 (2)
UN Special Rapporteur, Léo Heller (centre) with representatives from WASH and human rights organisations and networks (including RWSN, SIWI, Water Integrity Network, KEWASNET, End Water Poverty, Coalition Eau and WSSCC)


To find out more have a look at these RWSN resources:

E-discussion synthesis & publications:

Webinar Recordings:

Leo Heller on : Regulation of water and sanitation services

by Léo Heller, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation

Re-posted from: https://medium.com/@SRWatSan/regulation-of-water-and-sanitation-services-bef44401caf4 

Report A/HRC/36/45, submitted by the Special Rapporteur to the Human Rights Council in September 2017, focuses on the role regulatory frameworks play in the implementation of the human rights to water and sanitation at national level.

art by aicoculturas / anderson augusto

Regulatory frameworks comprise the rules or standards defining how services should be provided to individuals in a given context, and the institutions responsible for monitoring service providers’ compliance with these norms and standards.

The number of States with a regulatory framework for water and sanitation services is increasing and so is the contingent of regulatory actors. However, there is no universal regulatory model. Regulation should be adapted to local circumstances, needs and challenges.

States have interpreted the role of regulation in various ways depending largely on the norms applicable to their particular context and corresponding needs, leading to a range of different institutional arrangements and regulatory models including self-regulation, regulation by contract and regulation by a separate regulatory body.

Being at the interface between policy-makers, service providers and users, while acting as guarantors of accountability, regulatory actors play an essential role in the realisation of the human rights to water and sanitation.

Continue reading “Leo Heller on : Regulation of water and sanitation services”

Making rights real by supporting local government heroes

re-posted from: http://www.wateraid.org/news/blogs/2016/december/making-rights-real-by-supporting-local-government-heroes

Louisa Gosling, WaterAid’s Quality Programmes Manager, introduces a guide to using the status of water and sanitation as human rights to drive progress on the ground, and explains how marketing strategies can help us reach our target audiences.

The UN officially recognised the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation in 2010. But what does this actually mean for work on the ground?

For people living in rich countries, where heavily regulated utilities supply the population with water and collect and treat wastewater, rights to water and sanitation are mainly covered by enforceable domestic laws and regulations.

Independent inspectorates and complaints mechanisms ensure service providers can be held accountable to service users.

But for people living in countries with very poor access to water and sanitation services, it is a different picture. For the nearly 2.4 billion people without access to adequate sanitation, and 663 million without access to clean water, these systems are often not in place. The lack of access is due to lack of capacity and resources in the sector, weak demand by service users, and poor accountability of service providers to users – their rights are neither demanded nor fulfilled.

The human rights framework clearly assigns responsibilities – people have the rights to water and sanitation services, and governments are duty bound to realise them. But what does that mean in practical terms for government, especially local government officials, who are closest to the people? How can the human rights actually help local officials to reach everyone, even when they have very limited resources and capacities?

With more countries integrating human rights to water and sanitation into national systems there is an opportunity to explore the difference this can make to both providers and users of water and sanitation services.

Making rights real – a guide

The UN Special Rapporteur’s handbook on realising the human rights to water and sanitation sets out the practical implications in considerable detail, which is helpful. But it is too long and detailed for many practitioners to use. So, WaterAid, WASH United, End Water Poverty, University of Technology Sydney, UNICEF, and the Rural Water Supply Network joined forces to develop guidance specifically aimed at local government officials. We worked with a content marketing agency, C3, to help make a really user-friendly guide.

Content marketing is customer centric communication. Understand your audience and their needs, and to be serious about it. What can we sell "them" today? What are you interested in right now?

Image 1: Finding out what the user wants to know.

A marketing approach

To find out more about our target audience the ‘Making Rights Real’ project partners, funded by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery, carried out an audience analysis. First, we interviewed local government officials in low-income settings to learn what they thought about their responsibilities for reaching everyone everywhere with water and sanitation. We wanted to know what helps them, what makes their work difficult, and what can help to inspire them. We presented the resulting paper – ‘Achieving universal and equitable access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) for all – practitioner perspectives and perceptions [191]’1 at the Rural Water Supply Network forum in Abidjan.

Findings slide from C3

Image 2: Some of the challenges local government officials face, according to audience analysis.

The report clearly showed the many challenges that local government officials face, and their low understanding of human rights as something relevant to their work.

So, working with C3, we used these interviews to develop user ‘personas’ to help us better target the content of human rights to our audience.

Local government official personas

Image 3: Local government user personas adapted from C3.

Would-be heroes

We decided to target our materials towards the would-be heroes. The analysis defined this audience segment as a large group of people working in local government, who feel personally committed to providing services to local people but are constrained and thwarted by lack of resources and political support.

We agreed that if this group were empowered and supported some of them could become superheroes and really help progress. Champions within institutions can have a huge impact. For example, the WaterAid-commissioned research ‘A tale of clean cities’ found that one of the main drivers for improving urban sanitation was committed champions at the municipal level.

The would-be heroes have many misconceptions about human rights. For example, they often believe that if water is a human right it should be provided to everyone free of charge, which is clearly incompatible with governments needing to raise revenue to help run sustainable services. However, the human rights standards state that it is fine to ask people to pay for services, as long as the tariffs are affordable.

We also discovered the many different groups that influence the would-be heroes’ actions and decisions (see image 4). We learned how important it is to recognise these influencers, to galvanise as much support, advocacy, and collaboration as possible from them in order to achieve adequate and sustainable services for all.

Who influences the would-be hero?

Image 4: Influencers of local government officials. Adapted from a C3 slide.

We wanted to create a guide to help support and nurture sector champions. To clarify to local government officials the usefulness of human rights thinking, we used the analysis to design a colourful three-piece guide – ‘Making Rights Real’. The idea is for sector partners (like WaterAid) to use the materials in conversations with government partners.

The guide comprises: the pocket guide, containing basic thoughts and principles; the manual, with each step explained; and the journey, which shows the process at a glance.

You can download the guide (currently in English, French, and Portuguese) and instructions, from the Rights to Water and Sanitation website, and use them in your working relationships with governments.

Rights at the RWSN Forum

We launched the materials at the Rural Water Supply Network Forum (RWSN) in Cote d’Ivoire, using presentations, discussions, and role play. The response from participants was very promising. There is a strong desire among people in the sector to know more about human rights and how they can use them to clarify responsibilities of governments, communities, service providers, and service users, and make everyone more accountable to provide adequate and sustainable services for all.

If we are to reach everyone everywhere with access to water and sanitation by 2030, as promised in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, a change in approach is needed. These essential human rights can only be delivered if those with the duty to deliver them are empowered and inspired to do so.

1Keatman T, Carrard N, Neumeyer H, Murta J, Roaf V, Gosling L (2016). Achieving universal and equitable access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) for all – practitioner perspectives and perceptions [191]. Making Rights Real project team. See the presentation here.

Louisa Gosling is Quality Programmes Manager at WaterAid. She tweets as @louisagosling1 and you can read more of her blogs here.