HRBA2WatGov/Europe & CIS region


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edit  ·  Toolkit Human Rights-Based Approach (HRBA) to Water Governance
UNDP Regional HRBA to Water Programme for Europe & CIS

Detailed documentation: Background | Regional aspects | Regional Programme | Methodology
PHASE 1: Checklist (Bosnia and Herzegovina | Georgia | Moldova | Tajikistan | Turkey | Ukraine)
PHASE 2: Country Sector Assessments and Proposed Projects (Bosnia and Herzegovina | Tajikistan | Kosovo | Serbia) | Bibliography

Legal Framework: The Rights to Water and Sanitation in International Law | Regional Law | National Law
WaterWiki-resources:Rights to Water and Sanitation: A Handbook for Activists | UN Human Rights Council Resolution on Water and Sanitation | UN Recognises Access to Clean Water as a Basic Human Right | Human Rights-Based Approach | Applying a HRBA to Water:A Case Study | Water-related Legislation and Conventions | The Right to Water - WHO Publication | A UN Convention on the Right to Water - An Idea Whose Time Has Come | International Conference on the Right to Water and Sanitation in Theory and Practice | Q&A: The Right to Water | General Comment 15 (2002) | Q&A: Water Governance | Water and Health | Equitable Access to Water and Human Rights | European Union Water Framework Directive | Essay: What exactly is “The Right to Water”? | Protocol on Water and Health | Protocol on Water and Health/Q&A | Lessons Learned From Rights-Based Approaches in the Asia-Pacific Region | Human Rights-Based Approach Strategies adopted by UNICEF Laos | Utility Privatisation through the Lens of Human Rights | The Right to Water - From Concept to Implementation | The Human Right to Water:Translating Theory into Practice | Report of the Seminar on Human Rights and MDGs, May 2009
External resources: HRBA and Water Governance Fast Facts - UNDP | Applying a HRBA to Developing Cooperation and Programming (UNDP, 2006) | COHRE Manual on the Right to Water and Sanitation | Protocol on Water and Health - Full Document) | COHRE Monitoring Implementation of the Right to Water: A Framework for Developing Indicators | Sub-commission guidelines for the realisation of the right to drinking water and sanitation (2005) | UNFPA - A HRBA to Programming, Practical Implementation Manual and Training Materials (2010) | Operational Guidelines for Implementing a Rights-Based Approach in Water and Sanitation Programming (CoHRE,2008) | COHRE Monitoring Implementation of the Right to Water: A Framework for Developing Indicators | FAQs on a HRBA to Development Cooperation | The Human Rights-Based Approach to Development - The Right to Water | UN Independent Expert Report on the issue of human rights obligations related to water and sanitation 2009 | UN Independent Expert Report on MDGs and right to water and sanitation 2010
Websites: The Rights to Water and Sanitation Information Portal | UN Independent Expert on Right to Water and Sanitation Webpage


Why a focus in Europe & CIS countries?

The situation regarding WSS in Eastern Europe and ECCA countries has been described as critical and deteriorating [1] (hereinafter the OECD report). Most of the efforts to date regarding the adoption of HRBA to water supply and sanitation and water governance have focused on other regions, in particular, Africa. HRBA have received far less attention in the Europe & CIS Region. While many projects to improve water supply and sanitation have been carried out or are planned in the region promoted and financed by the European Union, UNDP, EIB, the World Bank or bilateral donors in response to the critical situation of WSS (see list of projects in Annex I), these projects do not generally take account of human rights. These on-going and planned projects and initiatives could provide effective entry points for the implementation of HRBA. In addition, most of the countries in the region have signed and ratified core UN human rights conventions, setting a positive environment to implement HRBA. However, this implementation would require effective coordination and a key actor taking on a leading role. UNDP seems to be optimally positioned due to its programmes on water governance and experience in adopting and implementing HRBA.

Because of the critical regional situation regarding water supply and sanitation and water governance

A very diverse region from an economic and geo-political perspective

The Europe & CIS region is composed of very diverse countries. They have different physiological, geographical and demographic characteristics which in turn lead to different water problems. For example, most countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia are (semi-arid, mountainous and with many isolated areas, with a predominant rural population (e.g., in Tajikistan 72 per cent of the population lives in rural areas) and whose limited water resources are shared with other countries in the sub-region. In comparison, Central and Eastern European countries have a higher proportion of urban population and a more generous topography and climate –water problems in these countries are more related to pollution and risk of flooding than to scarcity of water. This different physiognomy and distribution of population between rural and urban areas also creates different problems regarding WSS coverage rates within the region.

The countries in the region also have different economic and political characteristics. While most of them are economies of transition, there are strong differences in income levels, with low-income countries having 400 USD GNI per capita (e.g., Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan) and middle/high income countries having more than 2000 USD GNI per capita (e.g., Russia). Many of the countries in Central and Eastern Europe are members of the European Union, candidate countries or part of the EU neighbourhood policy which generally leads to approximation strategies and heavy investments from the EU. Finally, there are post-conflict areas, i.e., the Western Balkans, which are facing specific problems linked to their political situation.

A region confronted to common challenges in the water sector

Despite these intra-regional differences, the Europe & CIS countries are confronted with various challenges in the area of water supply and sanitation that are common to the region.

Level and quality of WSS services

The level and quality of WSS services among countries in Europe and Central Asia varies greatly. One of the main characteristics of the region is a high coverage of urban populations and a precarious situation in rural areas. WHO-UNICEF progress reports indicate that EECCA countries appear to be on track to achieve the MDGs regarding water supply. This contradicts a well known situation of very low rates of connectivity in rural areas and rapidly deteriorating connections in urban areas. In fact, as explained by the OECD in its report on Financing water supply and sanitation in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia, the situation is not that positive and the proportion of the population that currently have sustainable access to safe water and adequate sanitation remains undetermined. The OECD report explains that while the official MDG Target 10 progress monitoring system (JMP) provides a reassuring picture of the WSS sector in the EECCA region this picture is in fact misleading because (1) it is technology-based and do not capture issues such as quality, reliability and sustainability; (2) there is no baseline against which progress can be measured since population data for 1990 is generally missing; (3) limited data collection raise serious questions about the reliability of the JMP’s coverage estimates; and (4) evidence from other sources suggests that WSS sector in the EECCA region is actually in crisis.

In urban areas, coverage with centralised water supply ranges between 60 per cent in Kyrgyzstan and 90 percent in Russia or Ukraine. The level of sanitation services is lower and ranges between 24 per cent and 73 per cent. However, in the last years the quality of the service provided (water quality and continuity) has been deteriorating. The OECD report [2] indicates that users generally receive water for less than 20 hours per day with some countries (Azerbaijan or Armenia) only receiving water for 5 or 7 hours per day. In addition, unaccounted-for water [3] has remained high in the region and has increased in some countries. There are also many problems linked to pollution of surface and groundwater by agricultural and industrial chemicals.

In rural areas, the situation is more serious. Responsibility for water was decentralised in most of the countries in the 1990s [4]. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, WSS infrastructure has continued to deteriorate, especially in rural areas where collective farms were previously the main responsible for operating and maintaining the WSS systems. The dismantling of the collective farm system and the lack of resources for operation and maintenance has led to system collapse in rural areas. Access to water is primarily ensured through shallow public or private wells, in many cases polluted with nitrates and animal waste. In some countries only 15-20 per cent of the rural population has access to water supply and sanitation. For example only 16 per cent of the population of rural areas of Kyrgyzstan has access to water through in-house taps and in Ukraine more than 70 per cent of the rural population are not connected to centralised water systems.

Outdated and deteriorated Infrastructure

Despite the differences between urban and rural coverage, one common feature is that infrastructure is often outdated and in a bad condition, due to poor maintenance and bad management, leading to significant losses in the distribution system. As a consequence, heavy investments are needed to rehabilitate, upgrade or build the necessary infrastructure, especially if the countries are to approximate or converge with EU requirements [5].

Tariffs not reflecting actual costs

Another common characteristic is that current tariffs do not reflect the actual costs of supplying water. This leads to over-consumption. In addition, revenue collection rates are low, and maintenance and operational costs are seldom covered. Only in the limited number of countries where households meters have been installed (e.g., Georgia, Moldova, Kazakhstan or Yerevan in Armenia) have consumption rates decreased and bill collection rates significantly improved. Quality standards are often too stringent and not complied with. Finally, since many countries of the region rely on international water ways for water supply, transboundary impacts also need to be taken into account.

Legislative and institutional weaknesses

In addition, there are problems linked to legislative and institutional weaknesses in these countries. Many countries lack an adequate legislative framework especially secondary legislation and concessions and public procurement legislation. There is no clear allocation of responsibilities and inter-ministerial coordination and coordination between the central and regional/local level is often missing. Political and institutional instability is also a problem in the region, as well as enforcement due to lack of human and technical resources but also to lack of coordination and political will.

Poor involvement of civil society and of dissemination of information

The involvement of civil society and dissemination of information is still rare, although there are some good examples, such as hot lines in Russia, water consumer associations’ involvement in river basin councils in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan or specific legal dispositions for public participation in the tariff approval process in Armenia. However, these are anecdotal examples. Public involvement and redressing mechanisms can still be considered as generally poor.

Intense competition for budgetary resources

Finally, the region faces the challenge of mitigating these problems at a time of intense competition for limited budgetary resources and increasing social, political, and economic pressures.

Because many countries in the region face similar challenges, there is room for developing a common regional strategic approach for the entire region, although the design and implementation of concrete projects should take into account sub-regional, national and local specificities.

Because there is a legal and enabling environment for implementing a right to water and adopting HRBA in the region

A number of trends at global, regional and national level have created a more favourable environment for the implementation of a right to water in the region. Remaining obstacles could be overcome by the adoption of more practical approaches to WSS and water governance.

The Council of Europe instruments

The Council of Europe declarations and in particular the 2001 European Charter on Water Resources and Recommendations 1668 and 1669 clearly call for the recognition and implementation of a right to water. Principle 5 of the European Charter on Water Resources recognises everybody’s “right to a sufficient quantity of water for his or her basic needs”. The Charter links this principle to the human rights to be free from hunger and to enjoy an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families. According to the Charter, “these two requirements include the right to a minimum quantity of water of satisfactory quality from the point of view of health and hygiene”. The Charter further establishes that “social measures should be put in place to prevent the supply of water to destitute persons from being cut off”.

The right to water is a socio-economic right which is not covered by the European Convention of Human Rights. However, the European Court of Human Rights has developed interesting precedents which although they do not recognise the right to water, have linked the right to a clean environment with other rights. In Zander v. Sweden the ECtHR ruled against the deprivation of access to a well used for drinking water. In López Ostra v. Spain, the ECtHR recognised that “severe environmental pollution may affect individuals’ well being and prevent them from enjoying their homes in such a way as to affect their private and family life adversely”.

The European Union initiatives and legal acts

The European Union also offers many incentives for the implementation of the right to water in the Region. For EU members and candidate countries, the EU offers a strong legal framework for water governance [6] which embodies many of the substantive elements of a right to water including participatory rights and access to information, and promotes an integrated approach to water management. The European Court of Justice has developed a constructive jurisprudence regarding water pollution.

However, the focus of the 2000 Water Framework Directive on cost recovery does not take into account human rights consideration. Moreover, there is inequality between rural and urban areas in the legislation [7]. Finally, although cohesion and regional funds, which are main funding instruments for Member States, have a major component on WSS, water rights concerns are poorly integrated.

Through the European Neighbourhood Policy, the EU is actively supporting alignment with these requirements in other Europe and CIS countries. While the EU Water Initiative includes access of the poor to water services as a basic human right, the main focus is on the promotion of water as an economic good in the water management plans and prioritisation policies.

The UNECE Conventions and Protocols

The UNECE also offers a solid legal framework to implement the right to water in the region. One of the major drivers for the implementation of WSS is the UNECE 1999 Protocol on Water and Health which incorporates many elements of the right to water (see box 5). In particular, the Protocol requires Parties to set targets and levels of performance for access to drinking water and for the provision of sanitation for the entire population to achieve a high level of protection against water-related diseases. These targets have to be published. The Protocol has recently entered into force and will require action from States Parties to implement it.

Box 1: The Protocol on Water and Health and the Right to Water

Article 4(2): Parties shall, in particular, take all appropriate measures for the purpose of ensuring: (a) adequate supplies of wholesome drinking water...;(b) adequate sanitation...

Article 5: Parties shall be guided in particular by the following principles and approaches: (1)...equitable access to water, adequate in terms of both quantity and of quality, should be provided for all members of the population, especially those who suffer a disadvantage or social exclusion.

Article 6(1): The Parties shall pursue the aims of: (a) access to drinking water for everyone; (b) provision of sanitation for everyone.

In addition, the UNECE has another major instrument to promote human rights in the region, i.e., the 1998 Aarhus Convention. The Convention provides for:

  • the right of everyone to receive environmental information that is held by public authorities ("access to environmental information") ;
  • the right to participate in environmental decision-making. ("public participation in environmental decision-making");
  • the right to review procedures to challenge public decisions that have been made without respecting the two aforementioned rights or environmental law in general ("access to justice").

The Parties to the Convention are required to make the necessary provisions so that public authorities, national, regional and local levels will contribute to these rights to become effective.

This instrument is especially important for enabling the public and CSOs’ involvement on health and environmental issues, including WSS.

The Almaty principles

Finally, the 2000 Almaty “Guiding Principles for the Reform of the Urban Water Supply and Sanitation Sector in the NIS” adopted at the meeting of the EECCA Ministers of Environment, Finance, and Economy, Ministers and senior representatives from several OECD countries, as well as senior officials from international financial institutions (IFI), international organisations, non-governmental organisations, and the private sector, recognised the critical condition of the urban water supply and sanitation sector in EECCA.

The Guiding Principles identify the key elements of urban water sector reform, which include:

  • Establishing strategic objectives for the reforms;
  • Reforming institutions and clarifying the roles of the national authorities, local governments, vodokanals, and the public;
  • Establishing a framework for financial sustainability of the sector and promoting efficiency and cost-effective use of resources;
  • Outlining the sequencing of reforms.

Because there are Active Key Players in the Region for Implementing a HRBA to water


Governments are the main responsible for implementing the right to water. Many countries in the region, especially low income countries, have included WSS in their poverty reduction strategies. Many are also going through legal reforms that are incorporating main elements of the right to water or recognising the right. For example, Armenia enacted in 2002 a Water Code incorporating specific participatory rights in tariff policy and the right to water. The right to water is also recognised in Russia and Ukraine.

However, in many cases the right is poorly implemented and enforced due to the lack of a strong regulatory framework on public procurement and contract law on concessions of water services, sufficient resources or lack of adequate capacity. The existence of other priorities may constitute an obstacle to the realisation of the right to water. There is no strong tradition on ensuring access to information on e.g. water pollution, and public participation. Finally, institutional frameworks are often too weak to ensure proper water governance and judicial and non-judicial remedies are limited. Monitoring and enforcement problems exist due to lack of resources (human and technical) and coordinating institutions and due to the absence of enforceable indicators in legislation.

International and regional organisations

The European Union

The recent expansion of the EU and its objective of strengthening cooperation with near neighbours will lead to a considerable increase in the role of the EU in the region, mainly through technical assistance for capacity building and policy and legal support. The EU is also a driver for cooperation between donors and other key players through initiatives such as:

  • the EU Water Initiative – EECCA component, a multi-stakeholder platform that aims to strengthen coordination and identify additional financial resources and mechanisms to ensure sustainable financing in the water sector, and focuses on improving the management of water resources through two thematic pillars: water supply and sanitation and integrated water resources management (IWRM);
  • the DABLAS Task Force, which provides a platform between IFIs, donors and beneficiaries to leverage investment projects for the protection of water and water-related ecosystems of the Danube and Black Sea and to prioritise the necessary environmental investments in the region.
The UN agencies

UNECE has a key role as a communication platform, especially via the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes and its Protocol on Water and Health. UNDP is also active through its Water Governance Program, WSS being one of the priority areas, with a focus on fostering national policy dialogue and capacity building. UNICEF has a global programme on water, environment and sanitation, focusing on water supply for communities as well as capacity building for institutions. UNICEF follows a human rights based approach and works in closely with local communities, including woman and children. It has a global programme on water, environment and sanitation focusing on water supply for communities as well as capacity building for institutions. UNEP has a specific Water Policy Strategy, whose implememtati8on is supported by the Collaborating Centre on Water and Environment, a centre of expertise of UNEP.

The World Health Organization’s Regional Office for Europe operates a programme on water and sanitation, part of WHO’s global water and sanitation work. The Regional Office provides the joint secretariat for the Protocol on Water and Health (together with UNECE). In addition, the Regional Office works with eight collaborating centres in charge of issues ranging from the protection of drinking water sources to water management and risk communication. WHO is mostly working on non-piped, community and household systems: small scale water supply systems and on small community water supply management.


The OECD oversees a Programme on Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Reform in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. This programme is part of the OECD’s work to implement the Environment Strategy for Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia (EECCA), a document endorsed by ministers at the 2004 Kiev Environment for Europe Conference. The Water Supply and Sanitation Programme assists countries in implementing municipal water reform and, specifically, in developing recommendations for legal and institutional reforms, tariff reform, financial management of utilities and customer protection and involvement in decision-making. In August 2007, the Programme published a report on the results of its work in recent years: “Financing water supply and sanitation in EECCA countries and progress in achieving the water-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)”.


In view of the critical role water plays in agriculture, and of the prominent role of agriculture in global water use, FAO considers inter-sectoral collaboration in the field of freshwater of utmost importance in the world’s efforts to reaching all the Millennium Development Goals, in particular those related to Goal 1 “Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger” and Goal 7 “Ensure environmental sustainability”. In 2006, FAO was elected Chair of UN-Water for the period 2007- 2008. FAO expertise is particularly relevant in countries where water management in agriculture is a key issue, e.g., irrigation in Central Asia countries such as Tajikistan.

Common initiatives

A good example of a common initiative between different partners is the Environment and Security Initiative (ENVSEC), under which umbrella several projects have been undertaken or are planned with regard to management of shared water resources. Established in 2003, ENVSEC members are [UNDP]], UNEP, OSCE, UNECE and the Regional Environment Centre for Central and Eastern Europe (REC). NATO is an associate member.

Bilateral donors

Bilateral donors such as Germany (GTZ/BMZ), Switzerland (SDC/seco), UK Department for International Development (DFID), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad), Swedish Development Assistance (SIDA), USAID, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), but also emerging donors (Slovak Aid, Czech Trust Fund, Turkey) are active in the region, often complementing broader initiatives. The paragraphs below offer examples of bilateral donors’ priorities and activities in the region.


USAID is one of the main bilateral donors in the region. Some of USAID’s priorities are particularly relevant in the context of HRBA to water. Within its efforts to promote democracy and good governance, USAID focuses among others on strengthening the Rule of Law and Respect for Human Rights. A cross-cutting programme is focusing on water issues.


The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has specifically integrated Human Rights into its water related activities. It encourages users to stand up for their rights and supports local and regional political processes capable of managing water in a sustainable, socially equitable way. In addition, within the Integrated Water Resources Management framework, the SDC concentrates on two key areas: drinking water and sanitation (Water for People) and water for food production which entails safeguarding water-producing ecosystems (Water for Food).


DFID pays particular attention to support for achieving the MDGs. The 2006 White Paper: “Eliminating world poverty, making governance work for the poor”, sets out DFID’s commitments on water and sanitation, particularly with regard to financing of essential public services – water, sanitation, health, education and social protection. However, DFID’s activities are mainly focussing on the African region, although it is also present in Europe & CIS region, e.g., in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia and Moldova.


The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) has recently decided to concentrate its development cooperation policy on five areas, which include the environment and climate, and democracy, gender equality and human rights. SIDA is active in the region e.g., assistance to the Roma people in the Western Balkans.


The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) has committed to incorporate human rights issues into all forms of development cooperation and is active in some of the region countries.

International Financing Institutions

At present, one of the main challenges in the region is the expected decreasing role of GEF, as less funding is allocated to the International Water focal area for the next replenishment period with a refocusing on chemicals and climate change. Some major GEF projects in the region recently ended, e.g., the Danube/Black Sea Strategic Partnership.

IFIs’ involvement, World Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (ERBD) or the Asian Development Back (ADB) is quite significant in the region even if it is far too little to cover the total investment needs. In EECCA countries, potentially in Central Asia countries, the EBRD will co-finance EIB transaction.

The private sector

With regard to the private sector, past experiences of public-private partnerships have shown that these can be useful in some middle income countries where tariffs can be high enough to meet private sector expectations for return on investment. However, they are disappointing in lesser developed countries or rural areas, where lower earning customers do not have capacity to pay higher charges.

Local and international NGOs

Local and international NGOs have been successful in raising public awareness and promoting the right to water, disseminating information on water and health, monitoring and holding accountable private sector providers and governments. For example, the NGO network ‘Women in Europe for a Common Future’ has been active in water issues in the region. Similarly MAMA-86 (All-Ukrainian Environmental Citizens’ Organisation) has a long track record in the area of WSS and has been actively engaged in independent studies and demonstration projects to find technical solutions for concrete WSS problems at local level. Tbilisi Community Alliance, a Georgian NGO, was essential to block the setting up of the International Water Corporation which aimed at exporting water from Georgia to Iraq via Turkey while a number of regions of Georgia were experiencing a real shortage of drinking water. Despite these examples, many NGOs in the region lack capacity for meaningful participation in the area of water sector reforms. The different REC are also carrying out and supporting projects in the area of WSS in the region.

However, there is a Need for Coordination and Cooperation among Key Players

Coordination and cooperation among key players is essential, including at a programming stage, in order to avoid overlaps or inconsistencies in the responses to the challenges. Such cooperation is ensured through different initiatives with various focus and geographical scope. In particular, donor coordination with a view to ensuring links between policy dialogue and investment action is essential, such as the EU Water Initiative EECCA component at regional level, or national-level donor-coordination mechanisms. In addition, sustainability of international efforts should be ensured. Typically, support for the upgrading or rehabilitation of water infrastructure should take into consideration factors such as maintenance or operational costs. Another key question is how to support small-scale improvements to WSS at the local level in rural areas which are not enough significant to attract international donors or IFIs.

Specific Elements of a HRBA to Water for the Europe & CIS Region

Based on the analysis of the main challenges in the region and the elements of the right to water, four key areas of concern emerge as needing special attention when striving to implement the right to water in the region. This section describes these proposed key areas of concern around which the UNDP regional programme is structured to identify topics and issues for WSS and water governance projects at regional, national and local level (after national assessment). These areas are discussed from a HRBA theoretical perspective and a number of concrete suggestions are given concerning practical measures that could be taken.

These areas are:

  1. Accessibility – infrastructure (connectivity and service provision): accessibility covers physical accessibility and focuses primarily on the quality of the services provided (e.g., infrastructure and facilities, physical access to water points, and systems to separate waste water or human faeces from main drinking water catchment areas). It implies that WSS infrastructure and facilities are developed in a way that provides access to poor, marginalised and vulnerable groups.
  2. Affordability (water tariffs and ability to pay): Water tariffs should be set at such a level that while ensuring cost recovery, a standard volume of water is provided at affordable prices (or free if necessary) to everyone and with special consideration to poor, marginalised and vulnerable groups. This may require differentiated pricing of water services.
  3. Allocation and Quality - water resources management (production, supply and demand management): water supplied should be safe and acceptable for all different uses and meet minimum quality standards set up in legislation. Water quantity is a matter of availability and is traditionally differentiated from accessibility as such. It involves establishing a balance among competing needs while giving priority to human consumption.
  4. Transboundary Cooperation - cooperation between all countries sharing a watercourse is necessary in order to reconcile the different and possibly conflicting interests and needs for water of the states concerned. Again it is important to give priority to human consumption.

The following sections describe the regional situation for each are of concern as well as how to approach problems from a HRBA perspective. This approach is used as an entry point for UNDP intervention.

Accessibility: avoiding discrimination and finding solutions for rural areas

The regional situation regarding accessibility

Two aspects in the region regarding accessibility require special attention from a HRBA perspective: accessibility to water in rural areas, and avoiding discrimination of vulnerable and marginalised groups and minorities.

Accessibility in rural areas

Accessibility implies physical accessibility [8] to water points as well as accessibility to water sanitation. According to the COHRE Manual vulnerable and marginalised groups include women, children, inhabitants of rural or urban deprived areas, indigenous people, nomadic and traveller communities, refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons and returnees, older persons, persons with disabilities and people with serious of chronic illnesses, victims of natural disasters and persons living in disaster-prone areas, people living in water-scarce regions (semi-arid areas and some small islands), persons under custody (e.g., prisoners). According to this definition, inhabitants of rural areas are a category of vulnerable and marginalised groups. Rural areas are treated as a differentiated group in this section since access to water and sanitation in rural areas is a main problem in the region.

In the Europe & CIS region, accessibility is a problem particularly in rural regions. In some countries only about 20 per cent of the rural areas have access to a centralised system of water supply. For example, 15.7 per cent of the rural population has access to a centralised system of water supply in Georgia and 26 per cent in Ukraine whereas in Moldova and Bosnia and Herzegovina this percentage is around 50 per cent. In addition, water delivery tends to be discontinuous. In Georgia, for example, 30 per cent of the population outside Tbilisi connected to water supply services receive water for less than 12 hours per day due to the deteriorating state of water supply infrastructure. The situation regarding sanitation is even worse. For example, in Azerbaijan only 11 per cent of the rural population has access to improved sanitation facilities [9].

The situation of vulnerable and marginalised groups and minorities

Vulnerable and marginalised groups and minorities [10] are generally not paid enough attention in the planning and programming of WSS projects. Connectivity to a centralised system is one of the indicators for measuring progress in attaining the MDGs on WSS. However, in many cases these indicators do not provide an accurate picture of the impacts of WSS policies on the poor, and vulnerable and marginalised groups, and minorities. This is specifically important in the Europe & CIS region where there are post-conflict countries and many ethnic minorities (e.g., nomads, Roma populations, Armenians, Kurds, Turkish Cypriots, Gagauz, Azerbaijan refugees and other groups). The rights of these groups have to be taken into account in the development process [11]. These groups generally lack the capacity to participate in decision-making process, or are not well informed about their rights in the first place. These minorities groups are seldom adequately represented in consultation process even though infrastructure projects may often affect them negatively (e.g., displacement). An analysis of impacts of plans and projects and development of specific indicators are needed from a HRBA perspective to avoid direct or indirect discrimination.

A HRBA to accessibility problems in the region

Going local: small solutions to ensure accessibility in rural areas

One of the traditional dilemmas in allocating resources and designing projects is whether to secure a limited and basic access to WSS to all or a quality service to specific priority areas (e.g., urban areas or more populated areas). In general, budget allocation and projects tend to favour the second option with a preference for large-projects and high-technologies that will improve access to WSS overall but fail to meet the needs of rural areas or deprived urban areas. These areas are generally less attractive for investment since a rural population has generally less capacity to pay. A HRBA may require shifting current priorities to making available funding for programmes to improve access to those who currently have limited access. As the COHRE manual indicates, it is important to “meet basic standards for all rather than reaching high standards for the better-off and failing to address the needs of the poor.” [12]

Large-scale projects may not solve problems in rural regions or be sustainable in the long term due to incapacity to cover operating and maintenance costs. Alternatives may include upgrading and improving traditional water resources (wells, springs) or adopting small-scale solutions with low-cost technologies and/or decentralised solutions for water supply at local level (similar to the Porto Alegre approach) [13]. These solutions are more cost-effective and sustainable. In addition, the right to water includes a community’s right to self-provision. This right may become a practical solution for certain areas (isolated areas). Service provision by entrepreneurs and CSOs may be a simple and intermediate solution. Other solutions may be establishing low-cost water capture and storage in water-scarce areas.

Finally, in other cases, alternative energy WSS facilities may be a solution in areas without electricity. For example, in Kyrgyzstan many areas do not benefit from electricity supply. Solutions based on solar energy or small-scale hydropower for water supply could be implemented.

Avoiding discrimination at projects/facilities design and during consultation

Regarding vulnerable and marginalised groups, it is important that the projects do not lead to displacement of people belonging to a specific ethnic group or that water infrastructure only favours high income groups or the predominant ethnic group. Strategies may need to prioritise neighbourhoods with high level of crime or establish specific requirements to ensure access to low-income neighbourhoods or areas predominantly inhabited by minority groups. In many countries particular attention is needed to the issue of Roma people and other nomadic and travellers groups in the region. Temporal settlements should benefit from WSS and may need to be specifically targeted. Other groups to be targeted may be persons living with HIV/AIDS or other chronic sickness since they have very particular needs for WSS, as well as hospital and schools.

Another aspect where the needs of marginalised and vulnerable groups are not generally consider is the design of WSS facilities (e.g., public toilets). Certain vulnerable groups, such as elderly or disabled/handicapped people or young children may not be physically able to access shared facilities that are too far from home or not designed to meet their needs. A HRBA requires these needs to be taken into account and incorporated into the strategies to improve access to WSS.

A HRBA also requires ensuring effective participation of vulnerable and marginalised groups. These groups generally lack the capacity to participate (they are not informed about their rights etc). It is important that the different groups are represented and participate in the decision-making process. For this reason, the implementation of this basic element will require appropriate skills and the willingness of practitioners to invest time and resources into ensuring effective participation to include these groups.

Affordability: applying HRBA to WSS financing in the region, cost-recovery & polluter pays principle and disadvantaged or low-income user groups

Many of the international discussions have been focused on whether water services should be managed by public authorities (totally or partially) or privatised. Also, there are fears among civil society that rehabilitation projects may lead to a rise on the tariffs that will no longer be affordable for all citizens.

The regional situation regarding affordability

In the Europe & CIS region, many projects financed by the EBRD and EIB aim at improving water supply and waste-water facilities. In addition, the World Bank and OECD have carried out specific projects oriented to water policy (e.g., regulation of private sector participation and financing strategies) which include pricing policies. Infrastructure and liberalisation projects have been in some cases problematic. For example, in 2007 the EBRD announced plans for a EUR 15 million loan for the Tbilisi Water Supply Improvement Project with the aim of improving water supply. There was strong resistance from civil society due to risks of an increase in water prices as a result of the liberalisation of the services.

Many of these countries (i.e., countries falling under the European Neighbourhood Policy such as Moldova, Ukraine) are carrying out approximation strategies with the EU Water Framework Directive which implies the application of the cost-recovery principle when setting water prices. However, it is equally important to guarantee that low-income and marginalised or vulnerable groups can afford a minimum volume of water at affordable price or even for free.

In addition, often there is no independent regulatory body to determine tariffs and local authorities have no or little guidance on how to establish prices. Public participation in the liberalisation of water services and tariff setting seldom takes place. The level of corruption in the region is high while redressing mechanisms to address issues of corruption and mismanagement linked to water services, in particular access to administrative or judicial review procedure, are rarely in place. However, some countries may have in place independent bodies in charge of monitoring maladministration that could be empowered to adequately respond to water complaints. For example, in Georgia, the Ombudsman (Public Defender) office has played an active role in investigating the conditions of vulnerable groups. In its regular reports to the Parliament, it has identified, among others, problems linked to WSS situation in prisons, orphans, psychiatric hospitals. However, the Parliament has shown little interest in these reports.

A HRBA to affordability problems in the region

A HRBA to WSS would require that, whichever water management system is adopted, disadvantaged or low income groups are not further affected due to water pricing or disconnection, and consumers’ rights are adequately protected.

When addressing HRBA and WSS financing, economic instruments (such as water pricing) should not be seen as the only tool in the hands of governments to ensure sustainable water management and consumption. Water prices should be part of a broader water policy integrating different elements of a sustainable water culture, including education, awareness raising, land planning and regulation of different economic sectors. This integrated policy should take into account the different water uses in the country, the social distribution, and the needs of various users as well as an analysis of the population’s ability to pay. The system should establish a prioritisation among water uses ensuring water supply for households as a priority over other sectors, i.e., agriculture, industry or tourism.

A combination of measures is thus required, together with an adequate analysis of the differences and needs in each country. One general principle is that a family should not spend more than 3 per cent of their income in paying water bills [14]. The OECD report shows that in the EECCA countries as much as 50 per cent of the population have exceeded this threshold, in some cases dedicating 10 per cent of the income to pay water bills [15].

Regardless of the type of water management and ownership option followed (public, public-private partnership, privatisation), certain social safeguards (such as direct subsidies to consumers, housing subsidies) must be established to ensure that demand-oriented approaches and economic principles (e.g., full cost-recovery and polluter pays principles) do not disproportionately affect specific groups (disadvantaged people, low income user groups and minorities). These subsidies have to be carefully designed to benefit the target group in a meaningful way, and avoid unwanted outcomes or side-effects.

Adapting water pricing policy

Basic elements of water pricing policy from a HRBA perspective include the recognition of the need for a minimum quantity of water per person per day (based on WHO recommendations), provided for free or at a reduced rate, as necessary. This can apply to the whole population or to specific segments such as low income groups, physically handicapped people, or people leaving in isolated rural areas.

Increasing block tariffs based on consumption seem to be one of the most effective approaches. The main challenge in the region is the need to install water meters, which is not usually yet an option in most EECCA countries. In any case, the tariff design has to be adapted to the particular characteristics of a country.

Social tariffs [16] have already been put in place in several countries in the region, for example in Bulgaria and Hungary. Targeted income support (housing subsidies) has been introduced in Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Russia and Ukraine. However, some problems of ensuring just and adequate targeting have been identified. Specific provisions on hospitals, schools and similar categories of establishments can also be established.

The tariff policy could also differentiate between different economic sectors in order to enable prioritisation of domestic consumption as per a HRBA. For example, a higher rate for tourist resorts could be imposed. For agriculture, differentiated treatment could be adopted distinguishing between basic agricultural needs for subsistence and industrial agriculture. Incentives could also be considered e.g., tax exemption or subsidised water price when environmental measures reducing water pollution are applied or water saving technologies used. Taxes on agricultural use can be allocated to a water fund to finance maintenance of water infrastructure, or subsidise a social tariff system.

Similar approaches could be applied to industrial uses including taxes for discharges to implement the polluter-pays principle based on pollution type and level of the discharge and/or degree of in-situ treatment. The possibility to provide subsidies if water efficiency & non-polluting technologies adopted can be foreseen. Taxes could be allocated to the same fund to finance maintenance and modernization of water infrastructures.

Budget analysis and allocation of resources at national level will also be important. The economic evaluation should include how resources can be used to cover operational and maintenance of the system.

Protecting the poor from disconnection

Regarding disconnection, a HRBA needs to be included in the contracts concluded with the service provider so that he cannot disconnect water supply unless strict conditions are met, including taking into account the capacity of the person to pay and the possibility to access other sources of water in the area e.g., public wells with safe drinking water. The supply of a minimum volume of water should always be ensured to satisfy basic needs.

Adopting responsible contract law and public procurement policies

Contract law and public procurement policies need to integrate the HRBA-approach so that governments have some control over pricing and tariffs to avoid abuses (including “abusive” clauses) and WSS companies, whether private or public, are held accountable.

Ensuring effective public participation

Effective public participation, especially in local communities, transparent tariff-setting rules and the availability of judicial and non-judicial remedies to protect the right to water are essential. Public participation is not only a basic element of HRBA but also essential to ensure acceptability of WSS management adopted as well as of rehabilitation projects. High acceptance is critical to ensure that citizens will be willing to pay.

Allocation and quality: making the most of integrated water management

The regional situation regarding water allocation and quality

On average globally domestic uses represent 10 per cent of the water consumption. Agriculture uses around 70 per cent (which in some countries could rise up to 80 per cent) and industrial uses represent 20 per cent of the water consumed. In addition, agriculture and industry are the main polluters of water resources (surface and groundwater). Domestic consumption in the region is very high (the average in the EECCA countries is around 200-250 litres per capita per day, but in some countries, like Georgia, the consumption is well beyond 500 litres per capita per day) [17]. In addition, water can be highly polluted organically or with nitrates and other chemicals from agriculture and industrial activities.

Allocation for essential domestic uses often competes with other uses such as agriculture, industry or tourism which utilise large amounts of water and have in many cases a greater political priority. “As a result, ensuring the availability of water in order to meet the right to water and sanitation requires both the greater prioritisation of essential domestic uses and significant improvement in water resources management” [18]. In establishing these priorities, it is also important that cultural traditions are taken into account.

There is a need for a system of governance that can balance among competing needs while giving priority to human consumption.

Basic water resources management requires adequate regulatory systems and administrative structures to ensure not only sufficient, but safe and acceptable water for all different uses (human consumption, agriculture, environment etc) [19].

Many countries in the region are moving towards a river basin system of water management. This can be an important advance in terms of integrated water management. However, except for public participation, most policies and projects to improve water management do not take into account more specific elements of the right to water. A HRBA perspective could complement many of the initiatives in this area by focusing on specific aspects that might have been neglected so far (e.g., prioritisation, local needs, minorities or conflict resolution). In addition, the implementation of the Protocol on Water and Health will provide an excellent basis for taking into account HRBAs since it incorporates many of the elements of the right to water. In particular, since the PWH mainly lays down principles and goals that have to be implemented and achieved by Parties, the right to water and a HRBA may help to design the concrete measures to be adopted.

A HRBA to water allocation and water quality problems in the region

Requiring minimum allocation of water

In terms of allocation of water, a HRBA requires taking account of the obligation to ensure at least 20 litres per person per day (WHO recommended minimum). While noting that 50-100 litres per person per day is the amount at which most health needs are met [20]. Although the standards set regarding water quantity should be in any case adapted to the country’s capacity to fulfil them, the minimum should at least be granted for all.

Establishing water quality standards

In terms of water quality, HRBA requires taking into account acceptability of water supply by users (e.g., acceptable colour, odour and taste [21]) and applying quality standards to all sources of water provision and not only to piped water. WHO should serve as a reference to set quality standards. From a human rights perspective, the reconciliation of resources availability with health priorities is particularly important [22]. In setting priorities it is necessary to take account of vulnerable groups and rural communities.

Prioritising domestic uses

In addition, a HRBA requires management plans to incorporate the obligation to prioritise domestic uses over industrial or agricultural uses or even ecological flows. Although this prioritisation may be already reflected in many national laws, in practice implementation is more complicated due to conflicting uses and economic development priorities in the country. This aspect will be especially sensitive in water-scarce areas, areas subject to water stress, or during periods of drought. In terms of quality, a HRBA would imply to ensure that this aspect is considered during river basin management plans elaboration and development.

Involving all users and adopting conflict resolution mechanisms

A HRBA would also ensure that all users and groups are represented in the public participation process that should lead to the adoption of those plans. This is especially important in areas of water scarcity where certain groups may be excluded from the process. HRBA is also essential to develop mechanisms for resolving conflicting water demands in an equitable way.

Focusing on local needs

A HRBA will also help to focus more on local needs adding new elements to capacity building activities to promote sustainable water use in household and agriculture. For example, the right to water would imply assisting households to obtain water capture and storage facilities or supporting local schemes for better water management, including introduction of equitability concerns in periods of water rationing, better agricultural practices, or waste management (including animal waste). It could also serve to provide for community-based monitoring mechanism.

Disseminating information and addressing complaints

Finally, another basic element in HRBA to water is the collection and dissemination of information relating to water quantity and quality. The right to water also requires the establishment of complaints/redressing mechanisms in case of violations of the legislation, pollution or abuses on water use.

Transboundary cooperation

“Transboundary waters extend hydrological interdependence, linking different kinds of uses and users in different countries within one shared system.”[23] Cooperation between all countries sharing a watercourse is necessary in order to reconcile the different and possibly conflicting interests and needs for water of all riparian states [24]. Under international customary law the principle of equitable and reasonable utilisation is the basis for managing transboundary water courses [25]. In the Gab Ikovo-Nagymaros case [26], the International Court of Justice highlighted the importance of transboundary cooperation and explained the content of the principle to equitable and reasonable utilisation under international customary law, including emerging elements such as environmental concerns.

The regional situation regarding transboundary cooperation

The UNECE Protocol on Water and Health emphasises the importance of transboundary cooperation and establishes specific obligations for countries sharing the same river basin (Article 13). This responds to the particular characteristics of the Europe & CIS Region which feature a large number of transboundary river basins that play key roles in the economic development of the basin countries and are necessary for ensuring sufficient water supply to the population.

Except in cases where full transboundary cooperation is ensured i.e. existing mechanisms ensure equitable access to water and ecosystem services, sharing of benefits and exchange of information, different levels of transboundary water-relations can be identified, where transboundary cooperation should be improved or even initiated:

  • Tacit transboundary management: transboundary water basins with no major political or water-related conflict issues, but without explicit cooperation mechanisms that would ensure that all basin countries share rights and responsibilities regarding water management.
  • Water-related transboundary tensions: transboundary water basins which are in a situation of real or perceived water stress (including due to pollution) and with the potential for conflicts between basin countries or neighbouring communities regarding the management of water resources and mutual responsibilities.
  • Open political conflicts: transboundary water basins where basin countries have political tensions or disputes, preventing the establishment of cooperation structures or even transboundary dialogue on water management.

A HRBA to transboundary cooperation problems in the region

From a HRBA perspective, transboundary cooperation should in any case ensure transboundary public participation especially of cross-border local communities. This is important to identify the needs of users in the riparian communities so that they can work together to address common and concrete water management issues such as reaching agreements on allocation of resources. Local communities and minority groups should also participate in the institutions established for transboundary water management, including in the elaboration of plans and programmes. In addition, one emerging principle under international customary law is that priority should be given to “vital human needs” which includes sufficient water to sustain human life, including both drinking water and water required for the production of food [27]. This principle should also be taken into account when establishing or agreeing on management strategies and plans for an international shared river basin. Establishing conflict resolution mechanisms, including arbitration, would also be essential for solving problems regarding resource allocation and conflicting uses, especially at local level.

Conclusion: Opportunities for a Regional programme on HRBA for water governance

As shown in the previous sections, the Europe and CIS region faces common challenges despite intra-regional differences. These common challenges include:

  • Inefficient operations, characterised by high system physical and commercial losses and high operating costs
  • Outdated infrastructure
  • Institutional and regulatory weaknesses, including governance and coordination issues
  • Water quality problems due to malfunctioning treatment plants and equipment;
  • Lack of financial viability due to poor commercial practices, low tariffs, and limited government subsidies;
  • Water resource scarcity and pollution or flood risks;
  • Corruption
  • Poor involvement of civil society on water issues
  • Intense competition for limited budgetary resources and increasing social, political, and economic pressures

These common challenges indicate the feasibility and need for a common regional strategic approach, although the design and implementation of concrete projects and interventions need to take into account sub-regional, national and local specificities.

The approach proposed in developing such a regional programme with UNDP as leading agency is based on the COHRE Manual on the right to water, and HRBA. The cross-cutting nature of “water as development driver” further suggests close links with areas such as gender and promotion of vulnerable groups, conflict prevention, capacity building and participation, climate change and adaptation, and of course the promotion of human rights. This emphasis on human rights favours a more innovative approach to WSS and water governance in the region, which has so far mainly focused on water-related projects of a more technical nature.

The region has an enabling environment for implementing the right to water due to many international instruments which incorporate essential elements of the right and the activities carried out by international actors. There are also positive trends at national level. These actors, with some significant exceptions, have not yet focused on HRBA and lack experience in solving WSS needs from a human rights perspective. Approaching WSS from a HRBA will benefit from a practical rather than theoretical point of view. Human rights standards and principles are effective tools to address the practical challenges of water governance and achieving the MDG regarding WSS.

Coordination and cooperation among key players is essential, including at a programming stage, in order to avoid overlaps or inconsistencies in the responses to the challenges. UNDP seems to be optimally positioned as leading institution/agency due to its programmes on water governance and experience in adopting and implementing HRBA.


  1. OECD, EAP Task Force, Financing Water Supply and Sanitation in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia (2005)
  2. Chapter 3 Meeting the Millennium Development Goals for Drinking Water and Sanitation Target in the EECCA Region: A Goal within a reach?, p.45
  3. “Share of water produced but which either is lost through leakage pr stolen from the distribution network.” (OECD Report, p.27)
  4. It remains centralised in Belarus, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan
  5. A COWI report estimates the costs of meeting the MDGs in EECCA countries at €14.6 billion for 2002-2015. However COWI goes beyond the mere calculation of “MDG costs” and attempts to calculate all–in costs (or “Total costs”) which are the sum of MDG costs, operation and maintenance (O&M) costs of the existing system, O&M costs of new extensions and additional facilities and re-investments costs. The annual Total cost estimate is of €6.9 billion per year over 2000-2020. This highlights one of the main challenges in the region: maintaining and improving existing infrastructure. See COWI, Financial needs of achieving the Millennium Development Goals for water and sanitation in the EECCA region (2004) commissioned by the Danish Ministry of Environment and OECD Report, pp.65-66
  6. In particular, the Water Framework Directive and Groundwater, Drinking Water and Urban Wastewater (UWW) Directives
  7. The UWW Directive sets detailed requirements only agglomerations of more than 2000 inhabitants
  8. According to the WHO, physically accessible implies that the water point is between 100-1000 metres of a household or collection time is between 5-30 minutes.(G.Howard & J. Bartram, Domestic Water Quantity, Service Level and Health, (Geneva: WHO 2003), p.22 referred to in WHO Quality Guidelines, p.90 and COHRE Manual pp. 104-105
  9. OECD Report, p.24
  10. In order to include them in the process, an analysis of the reasons for their discrimination or marginalisation needs to be carried out. The identification of the causes, and whether these are structural or punctual, requires an analysis of the political, legal and social framework of the country.
  11. E. Filmer Wilson, The Human rights-based approach to development: the Right to water (2004), p. 17.
  12. COHRE Manual, p. 104.
  13. See Lobina, Emanuele and David Hall Water in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Accountable, Effective, Sustainable and Democratic, August 2002.
  14. UNDP 2006 Human Development Report, note 1 pp.11-97 and COHRE Manual page 129
  15. Cfr supra OECD Report, p. 156
  16. Minimum quantity of water ensured at a reduced rate or for free
  17. OECD report, p.30. Data from 2005 including total annual water sold expressed by population served per day; by connection per month and by household per month
  18. COHRE Manual, p.81
  19. This could benefit from the approach and principles of “Integrated Water Resources Management” (IWRM) as a mean to achieve the overreaching objective of WSS. See for instance
  20. General Comment 15, para.12(a)
  21. General Comment 15, para. 48
  22. COHRE Manual, p.94
  23. UNDP, 2006 Human Development Report, p.203
  24. COHRE Manual, p. 151
  25. See for example Article 5(2) of the Convention on the Law of the non-navigational uses of international watercourses: “Watercourses States shall participate in the use, development and protection of an international watercourse in an equitable and reasonable manner. Such participation includes both the right to utilise the watercourse and the duty to cooperate in the protection and development thereof, as provided in the present Convention”
  26. GabCikovo-Nagymaros Project (HungarylSlovakia), Judgment, 1. C. J. Reports 1997, p. 7 available at . See in particular paragraphs 85, 112 and 147
  27. COHRE Manual, p.152

See also

A Human Rights-Based Approach (HRBA) to Improve Water Governance in Europe & CIS

External resources


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