Ten years of the human rights to water and sanitation: HLPF 2020 side event

3 min read

Our official side event to the 2020 UN High Level Political Forum highlighted the importance of the human rights to water and sanitation, for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and as fundamental to response and recovery from COVID-19. This virtual event brought together governments, development agencies, international NGOs, civil society, faith-based organisations and the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitation to shape a collective vision for universal access to affordable and safe WASH services.

The starting point for our event was evident from each speaker’s remarks: despite the fact that water and sanitation were declared human rights a decade ago, the world has not made enough progress on SDG6, time is running out, and action is needed now.

The transformation in economic and social models needed to deliver the 2030 Agenda has not come about. And, as speakers noted, the COVID-19 pandemic is both exacerbating existing inequalities and highlighting the shameful lack of access to services that enable good hygiene, which is impacting on the health and livelihoods of billions of people across the world.

Spotlighting Nigeria, Ghana, Germany, Palestine, the EU, India (see their call for action on women manual scavengers [PDF]), Spain and El Salvador, speakers outlined recommendations to link WASH to official HLPF discussions on human wellbeing and leaving no one behind, as central to urgent, transformative action to achieve the SDGs.

Watch the recorded webinar below to hear experiences and inspiration from our panel and guests.

Highlights included:

  • Leo Heller drawing attention to lessons from the pandemic that could help us accelerate realisation of the rights to all.
  • Temple Oraeki sharing experiences of grassroots campaigning in Enugu state, Nigeria.
  • James Wicken introducing WSSCC’s transition into the Sanitation and Hygiene Fund.
  • Sandra Carolina Ascencio explaining challenges to government prioritisation of WASH in El Salvador.
  • Fuad Bateh addressing the politicisation of water supply in Palestine.
  • Justin Koffi describing a multimedia campaign to ensure continuity of services during COVID.
  • Maria del Carmen Marques Ruiz reflecting on the EU’s actions towards and steadfast backing of the human rights to water and sanitation.
  • Mihir Mankad highlighting that the human rights are implementable standards that should form the foundations of a health, green and just COVID recovery.
  • Al-hassan Adam reminding us that it is all our responsibilities to campaign for governments to prioritise WASH in their COVID response and recovery.

Watch the recording of the full webinar


Opening remarks

Ambassador Dr Christoph Heusgen, Permanent Representative of Germany to the United Nations in New York
Pamela Chisanga, Country Director, WaterAid Zambia (moderator)

Framing the 10-year anniversary of the human rights to water and sanitation

Léo Heller, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitation

The sanitation and hygiene crisis in times of COVID-19 – role and ambitions of the Sanitation and Hygiene Fund

Sue Coates, Executive Director, WSSCC

Panel and discussion

  • Temple Oraeki, WASH Advocate
  • Sandra Carolina Ascencio, Human Rights Defender
  • Fuad Bateh, Water Advisor and International Consultant
  • Justin Koffi, Regional Coordinator, UNFPA-World Bank Sahel Women
  • Sinja Stadelmaier and Ann-Sophie Claus, The Female Company

Video: Sanitation workers in India – claiming their rights in the time of COVID-19

A human rights framework for COVID-19 with WASH at the centre

  • Joseph Whittal, Commissioner on Human Rights and Administrative Justice, Ghana
  • Maria del Carmen Marques Ruiz, Policy Coordinator, Environment & Water, European External Action Service 
  • Mihir Mankad, Center for Economic and Social Rights

Closing remarks

  • Al-hassan Adam, International Coordinator, End Water Poverty
  • Ambassador María Bassols, Permanent Mission of Spain to the United Nations in New York

Organised by: WaterAid, End Water Poverty, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitation, the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), NGO Mining Working Group at the UN, Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR).

Co-hosted by: The Permanent Mission of Spain to the United Nations in New York, The Permanent Mission of the Federal Republic of Germany to the United Nations in New York.