While access to drinking water and sanitation have been established as human rights since 2010, progress towards and beyond related national Millennium Development Goal targets has been slow, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Catarina de Albuquerque, the UN special advisor on the right to water and sanitation, has introduced the concept of “progressive realization” of these rights. In other words, national governments should move towards establishing legal and institutional frameworks and ensure continuous expansion of access to water and sanitation, with emphasis on equity and access for marginalized populations.
There has been some debate over national obligation versus local self-supply, with one side arguing that self-supply lets governments off the hook, so to speak, and the other side arguing that people need access, regardless of who ends up supplying the services.
Of course, with self-supply, equity cannot always be assured and upfront capital costs are often prohibitive. In some ways, these polarized opinions are simply opposite ends of a delivery continuum and in practice, there are successful (and unsuccessful) stories of community water supplies being established to provide access and being integrated into municipal management structures over time. When it works, this model can bridge the temporal gap introduced through progressive realization of the right to water and sanitation.
A new joint publication by two United Nations University (UNU) institutes — the UNU Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH) and the UNU Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (UNU-MERIT) — explores a hybrid mechanism of microfinance, based on community networks and third party collateral for meso-scale loans to provide a different financing model for small community water and sanitation supplies.
Access to low-cost financing coupled with a business model that provides incentives to water cooperative members is demonstrated to make financial sense for small communities. Embedding these community water entities within local government structures provides a mechanism for sustainability and for eventual government management as part of the progressive realization of rights.
For more information and to download the report, visit the UNU-INWEH or UNU-MERIT websites.