Water and sanitation is a human right!

water and sanitation should be a standard in modern world

Right2Water was the first successful European Citizens’ Initiative to reach the required number of signatures to pose action on the European Commission. Right2Water believes that everyone has the right to water and sanitation.

Written by Lea Gormsen // 01.09.2021

The “Right2Water” initiative

The initiative was submitted on the fifth of October 2012. This European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) seeks to implement the right to water and sanitation as a human right in the EU. The annex written by the organizers of this ECI states;

  1. The EU institutions and Member States should be obliged to ensure that all
    inhabitants enjoy the right to water and sanitation;
  2. Water supply and management of water resources should not be subject to ‘internal market rules’ and that water services should be excluded from liberalization;
  3. The EU should increase its efforts to achieve universal access to water and sanitation”.[1]

ECI is a mechanism for EU citizens to get involved in EU policy-making. For an initiative to be successful, the organisers need to collect one million signatures from citizens of at least seven different EU countries. This initiative collected 1.884.790 signatures from 13 different countries and became the first successful citizens’ initiative since the introduction of the mechanism in 2011.

Right2Water initiative believes, that everybody has right to water and proper sanitation

The reasoning behind the initiative

The annex states that safe water is a necessary commodity to avoid dehydration or water-related diseases, and also to be used for cooking, consumption and personal hygiene. Water is a human right and everyone should have access to adequate quantities of safe water. They further state that water should be accessible in an affordable, participatory and non-discriminatory manner. The right to water is a question of dignity, meaning that the possibility for sanitation is a way of protecting human dignity and privacy.

The organisers claim that the right to water is the biggest human rights issue of our time. The more people that do not have access to safe water, the more people will starve, carry diseases and lose children. Sanitation is important!

Who should be responsible for water and sanitation?

The proposers of the ECI believe that the government should be held responsible for their citizens’ access to water. The government should not focus predominantly on urban areas but also turn their heads to rural areas where most of the marginalized and vulnerable people live. Lastly the annex unfolds additional six requests:

  • To develop mechanisms, systems, plans, strategies etc. to ensure that progressively the full realization of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation will be fulfilled;
  • To ensure full transparency of the planning and implementation process;
  • To pay particular attention to persons belonging to vulnerable and marginalized groups, especially by respecting the principles of non-discrimination and gender equality;
  • To integrate human rights into impact assessments throughout the process of ensuring service provision;
  • To make sure that the process is in line with the human rights of the state, and allow sufficient capacity to monitor and enforce those regulations;
  • To ensure effective remedies for human rights violations by putting in place accessible accountability mechanisms at the appropriate level[2];

The commission’s answer

On the 19th of march 2014 the commission answered the initiative, partly meeting the proposals. The commission included the following:

  • A reinforcement of the implementation of the water quality legislation, building on the commitments presented in the 7th EAP and the Water Blueprint[3];
  • Launching of an EU-wide public consultation on the Drinking Water Directive, notably in view of improving access to quality water in the EU;
  • Improvement of the transparency for urban wastewater and drinking water data management and explore the idea of benchmarking water quality;
  • Set-up of a more structured dialogue between stakeholders on transparency in the water sector;
  • Cooperation with existing initiatives to provide a wider set of benchmarks for water services;
  • Stimulation of innovative approaches for development assistance (e.g. support to partnerships between water operators and to public-public partnerships); promote sharing of best practices between Member States (e.g. on solidarity instruments) and identify new opportunities for cooperation.
  • Advocation of universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation as a priority area for future Sustainable Development Goals.[4]

These are the overall proposals for change that the European Commission presented in 2014. What has changed since then?

water is a natural source

The changes since 2014

In 2018 the Commission made a proposal which was a direct follow up on the Right2Water initiative. The proposal was an adaptation of the revised Drinking Water Directive. This Directive will ensure safer drinking water for all citizens of the EU and ensure that the water that is consumed is of the highest quality. Furthermore the proposal was finally agreed on by the members of the Parliament on December 16th 2020.

The new agreement includes a control of tap water, drinking water resources and distribution systems to make sure that it is free of contamination. The Directive will also tackle pollutants such as microplastic, endocrine disruptors and other types of chemicals. The agreement will also obligate each member state to improve or maintain their access to safe drinking water for all citizens, and especially marginalized groups.

The new law will make the European Chemical Agency a key actor in the new system. They will have to ensure that the substances used in products that come in contact with water are safe. All in all, the Commission and Parliament seem to have taken the proposals of the Initiative seriously, and five years later they were able to present actual changes.

What now?

The new Drinking Water Directive entered into force in January 2021. Member States need to transpose it into national law within two years. If you would like to stay up-to-date regarding the Right2Water initiative, you can head over to their website to find out what they are doing next. On our website, we will keep you updated on any new proposals or legislation regarding this and other initiatives.


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