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Housing and Services - Children’s Right to Water and Sanitation
Authors | Paula Proudlock, Katharine Hall 1
Children's Right to Housing
Children’s Right to Water and Sanitation
Access to safe water is crucial to sustain human life. The previous South African Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry said that, “Water is the source of life. We cannot think about developing our people if we fail to provide them with a basic supply of water” (Ronnie Kasrils, 2000).
Section 27 (1) (b) of the South African Bill of Rights provides that “everyone has the right to have access to … sufficient…. water”. The right is also expressly recognised in international human rights instruments including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women of 1979 (Article 14) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989 (Article 24). The International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights does not expressly include the right to water. The right to health in the Convention has however been interpreted to include an obligation on the State to ensure access to an adequate supply of safe and potable water.
Sanitation is not named as a right in the South African Constitution, but in international law and national policy and law, water and sanitation are closely linked. Without water, many sanitation facilities cannot function, and people struggle to maintain dignity and the hygiene standards essential to preventing ill health and the spread of diseases.
Due to the importance of water and sanitation to the survival, quality of life, health and development of children, one of the Millennium Development Goals is to halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe water and basic sanitation (United Nations 2004). If a country’s water supply and sanitation is not sufficient or is of poor quality, diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea will be common. The causes of infant and child deaths can give a good indication of whether water supply and sanitation is adequate and sufficient. Lack of access to safe water will contribute to high numbers of babies and children dying of diarrhoea, malnutrition and HIV/AIDS. If a high number of children are dying from conditions such as diarrhoea and cholera, it is a clear indication that many people are not able to access safe water.
The Bill of Rights places a duty on the State to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the right to water. This means that the State must not take any steps that interfere with people’s access to water (e.g. cutting water supplies to poor households for non-payment of bills). It also means that the State must take positive steps to ensure that all people in South Africa can access water (for example by providing water pipes in rural areas).
In relation to the positive duty, Section 27 (2) obliges the government to take reasonable measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of the right. What this means is that the State firstly must have a clear plan to achieve the progressive realisation of the right. This plan must include a policy, a legal framework and various programmes aimed at giving effect to the right. The plan must be designed and implemented reasonably and – most importantly – it must not leave out a significant proportion of the population, especially not those people who are in vulnerable and in desperate need.
In order to measure whether the right is being realised, we would need to look at indicators that measure physical accessibility, economic accessibility and water quality. Factors that impact on physical accessibility includes the availability of safe portable water-supply points at or near children’s homes.
Factors that impact on economic accessibility include the tariffs charged by water-service providers, and the levels of poverty amongst the population. At an international level, the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Children’s Fund have set a minimum level for physical accessibility to be measured against. They have specified that every person must have a minimum water supply of 20 – 40 litres of safe drinking water per day, and the water supply must not be more than 200 metres from the household.
In South Africa, the 1994 White Paper on Water Supply and Sanitation provides definitions for basic water supply. There must be 25 litres of water per person per day. A person should also not have to carry water more than 200 metres. In addition, the water supply should be available 98% of the time or should have not more than one week’s interruption in supply per year, and “should be in accordance with currently accepted minimum standards with respect to health-related chemical and microbial contaminants. It should be acceptable to consumers in terms of its taste, odour and appearance”.
A basic sanitation facility is defined in the Strategic Framework for Water Services as “the infrastructure necessary to provide a sanitation facility which is safe, reliable, private, protected from the weather and ventilated, keeps smells to a minimum, is easy to keep clean, minimises the risk of the spread of sanitation related diseases by facilitating the appropriate control of disease carrying flies and pests, and enables safe and appropriate treatment and/or removal of human waste and wastewater in an environmentally sound manner” (Department of Water Affairs and Forestry 2003:12).
1 Children's Institute