‘Access to water, sanitation and hygiene is more than a service, it is a human right’, says WSSCC’s Archana Patkar

Date: 14th March 2014

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WSSCC’s Programme Manager for Networking and Knowledge Management, Archana Patkar, has called upon water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) experts, policymakers, donors, academics and activists to treat access to WASH as a human right.

She made the remarks during her keynote address at the WASH 2014 Conference – on the theme ‘WASH for everyone, everywhere’- that was held in Brisbane, Australia from 24to 28 March.

“Globally, 2.5 billion people have no access to a hygienic toilet. They wake up every morning and figure out how to take care of this most basic of human needs because they do not have a private and safe means to do so”, said Ms Patkar in her keynote address.

“WASH is more than a service, it is a human right and it’s our collective and individual duty and an obligation”, she added.

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Archana Patkar, WSSCC Programme Manager for Networking and Knowledge Management. Credit: WSSCC/Pierre Virot

WASH 2014 addresses the big issue – how to improve the lives of 768 million people around the world who do not have access to safe drinking water and more than one third of the world’s population who lack basic access to sanitation services. Unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation and insufficient hygiene practices are responsible for an estimated 801,000 children under the age of five dying from diarrhoea each year, and millions of people suffering blindness and other preventable diseases.

Speaking at the opening, Marcus Howard, of The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia said, “the world is talking about how to achieve universal access to water and sanitation and the WASH 2014 conference is critically addressing issues of quality service provision and how to sustain access. Safe water, sanitation and hygiene are essential to basic health and nutrition, and should be accessible for all human beings – rich or poor, urban or rural, disadvantaged groups or the general population.”

Mr Howard also said that the outcomes of the conference will have an impact on policy makers, both in Australia and further afield. “The conference provides a valuable opportunity to highlight WASH as a critical issue and its place in effective aid programs,” he said.

Across 2 days of presentations and 3 days of training, more than 320 participants were making a strong case for WASH to be prioritised in the United Nations post-2015 development agenda through a set of future WASH goals, targets and indicators that have been proposed by WASH advocates. The WASH 2014 Conference was used to reflect on how practitioners might work differently if a vision of universal access to WASH is to become a reality.

It is in this regard that Ms Patkar called upon the global WASH community to treat the lack of access to basic sanitation, safe water and hygiene as a denial of basic human rights. She argued that the absence of access to WASH is one of the ways through which inequality and exclusion is maintained particularly when it comes to vulnerable and marginalised groups.

“It is our collective, human responsibility to mediate and moderate this inequality and not doing so actively is tantamount to indulging in discrimination”, she said.

“This house must and does believe that we can and will reach every one, everywhere all the time”, she concluded.

The conference was managed by the International Water Centre with the support of The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia.

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