The Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation

Professor Meg Satterthwaite locates a way-point as she conducts a household survey on the right to water in Port-de-Paix.

In 2006, the Global Justice Clinic, along with Partners In Health, Zanmi Lasante, and the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights, embarked on a project aimed at examining the violation of the right to water in Port-de-Paix, Haiti. Following several years of collaborative work on the donor accountability and the right to health in the country, the four partner organizations decided to collaborate by documenting the impact of the blockage of potentially lifesaving loans from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The loans were intended to substantially improve access to potable water in the region. Originally approved in 1998 for $54 million dollars in aid to the Haitian government, the loans were blocked in 2001, effectively shutting down all prospects for the projects to proceed. The widespread and devastating consequences of these actions prompted the organizations to seek avenues to confront and bring to light the connections between health, water, and human rights issues so evident in this case. To analyze the complex issues at play in this context, the groups undertook a multidisciplinary project that combined quantitative and qualitative methodologies to furnish solid proof of the violations experienced by the Haitian people. Based on a household survey of some 70 families, as well as interviews with hundreds of people in Port-de-Paix, the groups established the basis for a report that would integrate these findings in an analysis that drew heavily on two disciplines typically treated as separate: human rights and public health. The aim was to present the findings in a comprehensive manner to support real reforms on the ground.

In June 2008, the groups published “Woch nan Soley: The Denial of the Right to Water in Haiti.” The report’s findings showed that conditions related to the right to water in Port-de-Paix were far worse than previously imagined, with little to no functioning public water sources and heavy bacterial contamination in existing water sources. The resulting analysis and the broad range of concrete recommendations resulted in a broad and rich dialogue among different stakeholders.

To read the report in English,  French, or Kreyol. To read press releases or attendant articles related to the report, please click HERE.

In Fall 2011, members of the Global Justice Clinic, returned to Haiti and conducted research for the Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation. The team examined how inequalities impact enjoyment of the rights to water and sanitation as part of a project supporting the Special Rapporteur in her role as Chair of the Working Group on Equity and Non-Discrimination of the Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) of UNICEF and the WHO.

This Working Group was created by JMP to help advise on ways to integrate attention to equality and non-discrimination in the development framework that will follow the Millennium Development Goals, which come to a close in 2015. The Clinic team’s work included conducting interviews with water and sanitation specialists, research on key indicators and data-gathering methods, and legal analysis on equality, non-discrimination, and equity.  This research was integrated into an expert paper, available here.

A public water pump at the Champs de Mars camp for the internally displaced population Port-au-Prince, Haiti.