Call for feedback: WASHwatch reports back from workshop on monitoring the human right to water and sanitation

WASHwatch recently attended a two day workshop on monitoring the human right to water and sanitation (HRWS). The event was hosted by WaterLex in partnership with the Danish Institute for Human Rights and the Stockholm International Water Institute.

The workshop brought together WASH legal specialists, WASH advocates and human rights practitioners. Unfortunately, attendance from people with technical WASH perspectives seemed lacking (most likely due to exciting World Toilet Day events taking place the same week). Hopefully this report will help engage you in the issues of monitoring the HRWS. We welcome responses to this post, and more specifically, your feedback on proposed HRWS indicators.

What needs to be monitored?

The HRWS requires access to water and sanitation to be sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable (see UN General Assembly Resolution A/HRC/RES/27/7).

In the delivery of human rights, states must uphold principles of non-discrimination, equality, transparency, public participation, access to remedy / accountability measures, sustainability and non-retrogression (see Principles Handbook on Realising the HRWS).

Monitoring progress is essential to encouraging the protection and implementation of human rights. Monitoring increases transparency, informs policy and programming, and holds states accountable for progressively realising the HRWS in line with legal obligations.

The WASH MDG targets (MDG 7c) and associated monitoring tools used by the JMP (i.e. household surveys) fail to capture several important elements of human rights principles and standards of the recently recognised HRWS (see UN General Assembly Resolution A/64/292). There are currently several opportunities to collaboratively refine global water and sanitation monitoring mechanisms. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN OHCHR) is presently working on developing HRWS indicators, which will guide states in monitoring. Additionally, the process of developing post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is underway. The SDGs will play a prominent role in state level WASH planning and monitoring. A key challenge for our sector is ensuring that the monitoring of the SDGs and the HRWS is mutually supportive, and that all global monitoring supports and incentivises high quality national level sector management.

How are human rights monitored?

The workshop focused on HRWS monitoring proposals from UN OHCHR, and therefore followed a human rights-based approach to monitoring. Rights-based approaches to monitoring include structural, process and outcome indicators.

Structural indicators are meant to identify whether or not states have the policies and regulations required to provide an enabling environment for the realisation of the HRWS.

Process indicators, which seek to monitor states’ methods of delivering water and sanitation services with consideration to human rights principles (i.e., non-discrimination, participation, etc.), are vital to understanding the extent of the application of rights-based approaches to water and sanitation delivery.

Lastly, outcome indicators measurements of actual access to water and sanitation within defined standards (i.e., safe, affordable, sufficient, etc.), are necessary to monitor true experiences of the HRWS within states.

The full set of indicators proposed by UN OHCHR for monitoring the HRWS can be found here.

How should the human right to water and sanitation be monitored?

Presentation of these proposed indicators prompted much discussion among the workshop delegates. Delegates focused discussions primarily around two questions.

  1. Are process indicators fit for purpose?

Translating policy, regulation, and planning into outcomes is often seen as a “black box” of unknowns, since process indicators are among the most challenging to develop and measure with accuracy.

While proposed process indicators are meant to be proxies for human rights principles, there was a general consensus among delegates that many seemed more reflective of outcome indicators. For example, delegates felt the following indicator was an outcome indicator, rather than a process indicator: “Proportion of schools and institutions with separate sanitation facilities for men or women and boys or girls with menstrual hygiene management.”

Delegates felt improvements could be made with the inclusion of more indicators concerned with how services are delivered, rather than the expected outcome of if services are delivered in consideration of a human rights principle. An example of reframing the above proposed indicator to capture whether or not services are delivered in consideration of gender could be: “proportion of schools and institutions serviced with new facilities that provide access to separate sanitation facilities for men or women and boys or girls with menstrual hygiene management.”

  1. Should the right to water and sanitation be separated?

The combined presentation of the HRWS increases complexities associated with planning, delivering and monitoring the right. However, under current international law, water and sanitation remain as one human right.

At the close of the workshop, Prof Eibe Riedel spoke of consolidating workshop proceedings for publication. This, coupled with the on-going UN OHCHR and SDG processes, present opportunities for the WASHwatch community to contribute to an important debate that will surely impact future WASH policy and program development.

We are therefore seeking your comments and feedback on the proposed set of UN OHCHR indicators. When reviewing the proposals, keep in mind that indicators need to be manageable, feasible in practice, and cross cutting where possible.

Please send any feedback on proposed indicators to [email protected] – We will publish your contributions on and collate all responses for submission to Prof Eibe Riedel, UN OHCHR, and End Water Poverty (who are engaged in SDG advocacy) for consideration.