Monitoring implementation of the right to water: A framework for developing indicators

Global Issue Paper No. 14

7. März 2008

By Virginia Roaf, Ashfaq Khalfan and Malcolm Langford, Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, based on the proceedings of a workshop held in October 2004 organised by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World) and the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE).

National and international efforts to implement the right to water for all require the use of indicators to monitor the actions of States and other actors, to identify gaps in implementation and to help prioritise the use of scarce resources. This issue paper describes the start of an international process to develop right to water indicators that can be used by a variety of actors to make their monitoring processes more consistent, rigorous and transparent. Such actors include: States, who wish to assess and improve the effectiveness and design of their own policies; national human rights institutions, international human rights treaty bodies, which monitor State implementation of their human rights obligations; other UN agencies with responsibility for water and sanitation and civil society organisations.

This paper is based on a two-day expert workshop that included representatives of the main UN agencies monitoring access to water, governments, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, NGOs and other experts on the right to water. The workshop, held in October 2004, was organised by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (Right to Water Programme) and Bread for the World.

The paper sets out a framework and methodology for designing indicators for the right to water. It demonstrates the value-added of human rights indicators to current human development indicators for access to water, such as their focus on measuring efforts by States and other actors to realise rights, rather than only on outcomes, and on assessing levels of access to rights on the basis of gender, ethnic and other differences. The paper considers the technical and resource-related challenges to using indicators in developing countries, and considers a number of responses, including greater use of qualitative indicators that assess laws, policies and institutions, rather than relying only on quantitative survey-based indicators. The paper assesses current indicators for access to water used by UN agencies and notes that they can be used to measure certain components of the right to water, in particular those related to physical accessibility. It considers components of the right to water for  which such indicators need to be further developed, such as in relation to affordability of water and sanitation services. The paper draws on lessons from efforts already underway to develop indicators for housing rights and the right to health.

The issue paper sets out a matrix of potential indicators covering each aspect of the right to water set out in General Comment No. 15 on the Right to Water, and commentary on potential choices. These are not, however, indicators for immediate implementation. They represents a menu of choices which will be revised and narrowed down at a further stage to a smaller group of indicators that are most important and which are feasible to implement in the short-term and medium-term using easily available data. An initial indication as to which indicators may qualify is given. The analysis may also assist those currently developing national and international indicators for access to water in taking the rights-based approach into account.

The paper concludes with a series of proposed steps that should be carried out to develop right to water indicators, involving a wide range of stakeholders. Indicators can be developed in the short-term that would rely on existing quantitative data sources as well on qualitative structural indicators which would assess whether necessary laws, policies and institutions are in place. Over the medium and longer term, new forms of data collection will be required to measure the right to water in a more comprehensive manner. International assistance to developing countries, an obligation under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, is needed to develop the necessary capacity. The more effective and widespread use of indicators would lead to greater clarity in implementing the right to water and stimulate greater efforts to ensure the right to water for all.