Protocol on Water and Health


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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

The Protocol on Water and Health (under the UNECE Water Convention 1999) is an innovative piece of legislation tackling the issue of ensuring access to safe water and adequate sanitation. It is the first legally binding, multilateral agreement in the European Region linking sustainable water management and health protection. Given that the Protocol aims for access to affordable, and potable drinking water for ALL (i.e beyond the MDG 7 Goal), it can be interpreted as a way of implementing and putting into action the Right to Water.

The aim of this workspace is to provide UNDP-relevant background and information about the Protocol, discuss partnership opportunities and provide programming support to practitioners.


Introduction & Background


Nowadays, most Europeans take clean drinking water for granted. Yet, in the European part of the UNECE region alone, an estimated 120 million people, i.e. one person in seven, do not have access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation, making them vulnerable to water-related diseases, such as cholera, bacillary dysentery, coli infections, viral hepatitis A and typhoid. Cleaner water and better sanitation could prevent over 30 million cases of water-related disease each year in the region. The 1999 Protocol on Water and Health was negotiated with this in mind (UNECE).

The Protocol was adopted and signed by 36 countries at the third Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health, London, 1999. It entered into force in 4th August 2005 and to date has been ratified by 24 countries. As a Party, a country becomes a member of the Meeting of the Parties (MOP) and able to play a role in making decisions regarding MOP procedural, institutional, and financial issues. Contracting Parties are eligible to receive financial and technical support for implementation of the obligations of the Protocol. The entry into force of the Protocol has speeded up the ratification process, although ratification still remains a challenges in countries in EECCA and South East Europe, which ironically most need the Protocol.


The main aim of the Protocol is to protect human health and well being by better water management, including the protection of water ecosystems, and by preventing, controlling and reducing Water related diseases.

To meet these goals, its Parties are required to establish national and local targets for the quality of drinking water and the quality of discharges, as well as for the performance of water supply and waste-water treatment. They are also required to reduce outbreaks and the incidence of water-related diseases.

This Protocol introduces a social component into cooperation on water management. Water resources management should link social and economic development to the protection of natural ecosystems. Moreover, improving the water supply and sanitation is fundamental in breaking the vicious cycle of poverty.

The Protocol is therefore a pioneering multilateral agreement linking social and environmental aspects and addressing development and poverty issues. The Protocol is closely linked to the MDGs (Goal 4 to reduce child mortality - lack of safe water and adequate sanitation has been recognized as a major cause of child mortality -and Goal 7 to ensure environmental sustainability (in particular target 10 - Halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking-water and basic sanitation by 2015 - and target 11 - Achieve a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020). Furthermore the Protocol offers a platform to go beyond target 10, since its final objective is to grant access to drinking water and sanitation to everybody.

The Protocol displays innovative features of modern environmental law which will be strong assets for its implementation:

  • It requests Parties to establish targets and target dates tailored to their environmental, social and economic conditions and provides for the establishment of a mechanism for review of compliance (of a non-confrontational, non-judicial and consultative nature).
  • It includes provisions for international cooperation and international support for national action to support its implementation. Lack of resources for interventions in the areas of the Protocol often hamper global and national efforts in low and middle-income countries. This calls for strategic planning of investments. The Protocol provisions on international cooperation could offer opportunities for the creation of a forum where low and middle-income countries could review the effectiveness of their investments in the areas related to the Protocol and where donor countries could meet the needs of low and middle-income, on the basis of data on progress achieved required under the Protocol.
  • The protocol is unique because of the legal liability, which has never been included in provisions of any other agreement for WHO European Region related to sustainable water management and reduction of water-related disease.

For further information see the  PWH Promotional Brochure.pdf

Approach / Work Programme(s) 2007 - 2009

The working programme for 2007-2009 was discussed & adopted at the First Meeting of the Parties to the Protocol on Water and Health to the UNECE Water Convention, held in Geneva from 17 to 19 January 2007. The meeting was organized by UNECE in cooperation with the WHO Regional Office for Europe, which are jointly servicing the Protocol (almost unique feature for multilateral agreements).

The 2007 - 2009 programme includes activities related to: the support to Parties and non-Parties in the definition of, and monitoring progress towards targets and target dates; the development of a mechanism to facilitate the preparation of international assistance projects and the coordination between donors and recipient countries; surveillance of water-related disease and response systems; the human right to water and equitable access to safe drinking water; water supply and sanitation and climate change adaptation strategies; and public awareness and capacity building activities.

For effective implementation, the Protocol requires close national coordination of different sectors (environment, water management, health, international assistance). Moreover the private sector (water supply and sanitation companies) has a key role to play in the Protocol’s implementation.

Read the Full text of the 2007-2009 Workplan  Protocol on water and health workplan 2007-2009.pdf

For documents pertaining to the various meetings/conferences/workshops held throughout the 2007-2009 period, see UNECE PWH website

Report on the Implementation of the Programme of work 2007-2010

The Working Group on Water and Health, at its third meeting (26 and 27 May 2010, Geneva), entrusted the Bureau with the assistance of the joint secretariat to prepare a report on the implementation of the programme of work 2007–2010 to inform the second session of the Meeting of the Parties.

Read the Full Report on the implementation of the programme of work for 2007– 2010, including an overview of contributions and expenditures  ImplementationReport2007-2010Programmeofwork.pdf

Work Programme 2010-2013

The working programme for 2010-2013 was discussed and adopted at the Second Meeting of the Parties to the Protocol on Water and Health, held in Bucharest 23-25 November 2010. The meeting was organised by the joint secretariat UNECE and WHO.

The programme of work 2011–2013 consists of nine programme areas, each with respective objectives, expected outcomes and costs related to its implementation. Programme areas are divided into core and reinforcing areas.

The core programme areas are essential to ensure the implementation of the work under the Protocol at the national and international levels and are directly linked to the most fundamental obligations under the Protocol. These include:

  • Programme area 1 – Target setting and reporting;
See  Guidelines on the Setting of Targets, Evaluation of progress and Reporting.pdf adopted by the parties.
  • Programme area 2 – Surveillance and early-warning systems, contingency plans and response capacities;
See  Draft Policy Guidance on Water-related disease surveillance.pdf and  Draft Technical Guidance for setting up, implementing and assessing surveillance systems of water-related disease.pdf
  • Programme area 3 – Cross-cutting issues;
  1. Small-scale water supplies and sanitation
  2. Water supply and sanitation under extreme weather events and the impact of climate change
See  Small-scale water supplies in the pan-european region - background, challenges & improvements.pdf
See  Guidance on Water and Sanitation in Extreme Weather Events.pdf
  • Programme area 4 – Project Facilitation Mechanism;
See  Criteria for consideration of project proposals by AHPFM.pdf
  • Programme area 5 – Compliance procedure;
  • Programme area 6 – Promotion of the Protocol and advocacy
See  How to better promote the Convention and Protocol on Water and Health - A guide for focal points.pdf

The reinforcing programme areas include activities to strengthen the implementation of the Protocol. Their implementation will depend to a large extent on the confirmation or identification and willingness of lead Parties to fund and carry out the work to be accomplished. These areas include the following:

  • Programme area 7 – Public awareness, access to information and public participation;
See  Concept note on access to information and public participation under the PWH.pdf
  • Programme area 8 – Equitable access;
  • Programme area 9 – Capacity-building and sharing of experience.

The costs estimated in the draft programme of work are based on a recommended level of activity. However, the level of activity will likely depend on the financial situation.

Read the Full text of the 2010-2013 Workplan  PWHWorkplan2010-2013.pdf

For documents pertaining to the various meetings/conferences/workshops held throughout the 2010-2013 period, see UNECE PWH website

Importance/Relevance of the Protocol for UNDP

  • Health and water management issues are brought neatly together, and dealt with as a package (often with poor health and the number of water-related diseases being the reason for investing in improved water management);
  • It is a win-win for both recipient and donor countries;
  • UNDP can utilize the working instruments;
  • It goes beyond solely tackling problems of water quantity, to acknowledge the fundamental importance of water quality;
  • There are clear linkages and synergies with the Human Rights Based Approach to development, specifically in terms of access to water and Sanitation that should be utilised;
  • Similarities with other programmes in UNDP's water portfolio should also be followed up, including the IWRM regional programme in Central Asia;
  • The Protocol is fully in line with HDR 2006 recommendations with regards the right to water - and mean it, developing national action plans to ensure access to Water & Sanitation to all as well as the international support to implement these national plans;
  • It is a legally binding provision & framework for international development cooperation (thus potential projects).
  • As a partner in cooperation UNDP can cooperate with other partners such as OHCHR and WECF to implement projects that make a real difference on the ground.

UNDP's HRBA Programme and PWH Comparisons Explained

UNDP HRBA Progamme Analyst Katy Norman has written a paper outlining the mutual support UNDP's HRBA programme and the Protocol on Water and Health each give to each other through their respective implementation.

To read the full paper see  UNDPPWHComparativeStudy.doc

At the second meeting of the Working Group (2-3 July 2009), UNDP updated parties on progress made under the HRBA to water governance programme, specifically including the apparent synergies with the Protocol and initial results from the first two missions to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Tajikistan. (See PPT presentation presented).

UNDP-relevant and supported activities

Programme Area I - Implementation
  • Activity 1.2 Ad-Hoc Project Facilitation Mechanism: UNDP pledged support as one of the Main Partners (see [ TOR of the Ad-Hoc Project Facilitation Mechanism])

  • Activity 1.4 Public awareness, education, training, research and development & information, potential: Romania, lead country for this activity is preparing a workshop on public participation, information and education on water and health related issues under this activity for May 2010. The aim of the workshop is to promote a better understanding of the Protocol provisions. UNDP is willing to cooperate in this workshop, and present on it's experiences. (see PPT presentation given at the 2nd meeting of the Working Group on this topic).

Programme Area II - Activities to support compliance with the protocol

Programme Area III - Sharing of Experience
  • Activity 3.1 Equitable access: Under the lead of France with support from Switzerland and Belgium, a study on existing solidarity mechanisms for water use in urban and rural areas will be conducted, and a "good practice document on ensuring equitable access to water" drafted. UNDP will support this work, and confirmed it's interest to be part of the drafting group in preparation of this document at the second meeting of the Working Group (2-3 July 2009).

  • Activity 3.2 Task Force on Extreme Weather Events: With Italy leading this activity, UNDP will support (and possibly co-chair) this activity aiming at finding strategies to satisfy water supply & sanitation needs (a) in short-term critical situations and (b) in the long-term (Climate Change). There are potential synergies with UNDP's strategic priorities and foreseen activities in the area of climate change & Adaptation; and potential support/backstopping could also be sought from UNDP/CPR-colleagues.

  • Activity 3.3 Integrated Management of small water supply and sanitation systems: At the first meeting of the Working Group UNDP did not pledge explicit support, but could consider making available experience from its EcoSan-activities.

  • Activity 3.4 Regional and subregional workshops: UNDP could, case by case, consider co-organizing with UNECE, WHO and other partners.

Working Group on Water and Health

UNDP is a member of the Working Group on Water and Health to the Protocol on Water and Health. The Working Group first met on June 25th 2008 in Geneva, and reached the following agreements and outcomes. The second meeting of the Working Group took place 2-3rd July 2009 (Click Here for documents from the 2nd meeting).

(Programming) Opportunities for UNDP & Partners

Areas of Intervention

  • Helping countries in target setting for quality of drinking water, wastewater and to reduce the number of water-related diseases.
  • Overlap with HRBA to water governance programme - ensuring sufficient access to affordable, potable water for ALL
  • Projects explicitly tackling water management as a means to reduce water-related diseases.
  • Possibility of linking with projects implemented in first priority countries under the HRBA to water governance programme in Europe and CIS, including Bosnia and Herzegovina and Tajikistan first and foremost

Ad-hoc Facilitation Mechanism

  • Regional level: Member and non-member parties invited to participate. Priority given to project proposals submitted from countries that are parties.
  • Tasks: identify opportunities for collaboration (donor-recipient country) --> Armenia and Kyrgyzstan project proposals submitted at the second meeting of the Working Group on Water and Health (see attachments below).

Compliance Committee

Decision & TOR - has been amended; most importantly that also signatory states can nominate members (Art. II para 5)

Juerg Staudenmann to be nominated as member

See Also

Q&A on the Protocol on Water and Health

More general information on The Right to Water

Legal full text of Protocol on Water and Health - Full Document

Essay: What exactly is “The Right to Water”?

Resources in the "HRBA to Water Governance Toolkit"

Water-related Legislation and Conventions

Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes

Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses

Background Paper on Water and Health for the COP workshop Bucharest, 2008

External Resources

Protocol text

Status of Ratification

WHO website on the Protocol on Water and Health

UNECE website on the Protocol on Water and Health

UNECE website on the Ad Hoc Project Facilitation Mechanism

Q&A on the Protocol's legal framework

Groundwaters and the Protocol on Water and Health

UNECE search results on the Protocol on Water and Health

In the Press

A World of Thirst - Poor sanitation. Pollution. Wasteful irrigation. The planet's freshwater supply is terribly managed (UNDP's Andrew Hudson on issues around Water & Health (U.S. News, 27 May 2007)


 Full Text of the Protocol.pdf

 BenefitsAndImplications PWH.doc

 PWH Promotional Brochure.pdf

 Armenia Project Proposal AHPFM 2nd Meeting July 2009.doc

 Kyrgyzstan Project Proposal AHPFM 2nd Meeting July 2009.doc

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