Strengthening accountability mechanisms to ensure the human right to water

In July of 2010, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) passed Resolution 64/29, which “recognized the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation (WASH) are essential to the realization of all human rights.” In a subsequent resolution, the UNGA assigned governments responsibility over ensuring the full realization of these rights.

Authors: Christian Borja Vega, Jonathan Grabinsky, Eva Kloeve

Central in guaranteeing the rights to clean WASH is the need to understand the processes, the channels, driving breakdowns in the provision of services. This is what we aimed to do in a recent article, titled Introducing a Framework for Analyzing Weaknesses in Institutional Service Delivery and the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation: Case Studies from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Mozambique, and Niger. The paper seeks to understand how fulfilling the human rights to WASH in low- and middle-income countries is constrained by breakdowns in the accountability networks linking the State, water providers, and citizens – to understand these relationships, we use the framework of service provision introduced in the 2004 World Development Report (Figure 1).

Figure 1 Framework of Service Provision

The country examples we draw from include The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Haiti, Mozambique, and Niger. Our findings illustrate the need to conduct additional research to better understand the relationship between citizens and the WASH providers, while also highlighting the role of institutions and proper governance in creating enabling conditions to address issues of service provision.

We find that breakdowns in service provisions can be related to issues in the accountability relationship between the government and service providers. Common issues across countries include insufficient coordination and overlapping agendas/functions among different government ministries, incomplete/improper decentralization processes, and institutional and financial bottlenecks in the distribution and assignation of funding services. We also find that additional work, and literature, is needed to better understand the relationship between citizens, the State and WASH providers.

Informed by a human-rights-based approach (HRBA), we suggest a series of recommendations to tackle these issues. These include:

Promoting equality and non-discrimination in the distribution of resources; increasing citizen participation in the process of service delivery; upping the levels of accountability, transparency and WASH sustainability in the government; promoting greater government coordination; pushing for decentralization and strengthening of local capacity; and ensuring that States adopt fair and redistributive taxation policies and increase their overall revenue pool through the principle of progressive realization. The human rights literature offers concrete guidance on how to approach each of these.

The World Bank’s Water Global Practice has launched an analytical reference, titled Policies, Institutions and Regulations (PIR) to illustrate how sound governance and proper sector-specific institutions and processes remain key in providing the right to WASH. In the road towards universalization of services, towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals 6.1 and 6.2, it is vital that increased focus be placed on understanding inefficiencies in service delivery, on institutional and financial bottlenecks, and that further research be conducted to better explore the relationship between citizens and WASH providers.

Disclaimer: The views presented here are those of the authors, and do not represent the views of The World Bank or The Members of the Executive Board of Directors.