© Daniel Nordmann

How the Human Right to Water and Sanitation Gives a New Drive to Water Integrity

A step in sharpening the lens to evaluate the impact of corruption in the water sector

The daily reality of most of the Kenyans living in the Mathare slum, on the outskirts of Nairobi, is one of informal water supply, where prices, quality and reliability of the water are not ensured. The lack of sanitation facilities forces people to resort to “flying toilets”, plastic bags used for defecation which are thrown into ditches, or to use an open field as a “public toilet”.

This is not only the daily life of the residents of Mathare, but it is also the reality for many of the one billion slum dwellers around the globe. To tackle this problem, the United Nations General Assembly has declared access to Water and Sanitation a Human Right in 2010.

For the first time, basic service standards are clearly spelled out for water and sanitation service providers worldwide – be it in the slums of Jakarta, peri-urban areas of Lusaka, or residential quarters of Lima: water and sanitation have to be affordable; toilets, latrines and public water points have to be physically accessible, culturally acceptable and hygienically safe; supplied water has to meet the WHO Guidelines on Drinking Water Quality; and of course, water must be continuously and sufficiently available.

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Mathare Valley © Daniel Nordmann

Since then a lot has happened: several countries – including Kenya – have included the right to water and sanitation in their constitutions and water laws. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Right, Catarina de Albuquerque, has presented several practical steps to make the right a reality in her book “On the right track”. The quest to bring safe water to 800 million unconnected people and adequate sanitation to more than two billion has received renewed attention and energy.

The criteria of the Right have also sharpened the lens through which corruption and its negative impact on water and sanitation can be evaluated. The rights-based approach emphasises the role of governments as duty-bearers to respect, protect and fulfil the Human Right. It also recognizes consumers as right-holders with a voice – this applies above all to the most excluded.

But corruption is still a barrier towards realizing the right. In Mathare, the water companies’ technicians don’t even bother to go to the slum area; which means that they don’t maintain and operate public water points as there are few opportunities to get “kitu kidogo” (something small) from people living on one US-Dollar a day.

However, there are solutions that both the Water Integrity Network and Transparency International are part of. These include the promotion of Integrity Pacts and Development Pacts as well as assessments of the water integrity situations in specific countries, for example through the Annotated Water Integrity Scan.

Specific solutions developed in Mathare include community based oversight committees that help to make sure that water kiosks are functional. In greater Nairobi and other Kenyan towns, the regulator set up consumer groups called Water Action Groups giving the under-served a voice. “Oversight from the bottom” provides a powerful incentive for water utilities for more integrity, and better services. Thus, the Human Right, and its call for quality services, participation and equity, and the vision of a water sector with improved integrity go hand in hand – in Mathare and everywhere.

This post was written by Daniel Nordmann, GIZ trainee seconded to WIN in September and October 2012.