Policy paper demands human rights approach on WASH issues

Islamabad:A policy paper on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) points out lack of a human rights approach to drafting legislation relevant to WASH and related crosscutting themes.

The policy paper on ‘Human Rights to Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH)’ by WaterAid says that there is no legislation that expressly and holistically recognises the human right to WASH in Pakistan. The paper highlights the fact that the rights to water and sanitation is not guaranteed under the Constitution of Pakistan 1973. It says that the only representation of these rights exists in national and provincial level policies; however, these policies do not adequately entrench these rights within Pakistan’s domestic legal framework.

Pakistan remains amongst the top 10 countries with the greatest number of people living without access to safe water and over 79 million people lacking decent toilets with considerable gaps in access to essential WASH services amongst rural, poor and marginalised populations. The global pandemic has further revealed gaps in access to WASH in Pakistan and emphasised its significance as a fundamental human right.

The WaterAid policy paper also points out ambiguity in existing laws and policies and says that after 18th Amendment, a majority of areas relevant to WASH, including aspects of environmental pollution, water including supply and sanitation, management, legislation and service provision have all become the provincial mandate. This increased provincial mandate has not only promoted new legislation and policies on the rights to water and sanitation, but with the coexistence of older federal and provincial laws and policies, has led to overlapping mandates, ambiguity in institutional structures and oversight, weak implementation and an ineffective provision of WASH across Pakistan.

The paper states that this confusion has led to ambiguity in institutional mandates on WASH. There is no centralised agency on the rights to water and sanitation at the federal or provincial level. Instead, a number of institutions both federal and provincial are authorised, yet not adequately resourced, to devise, implement and oversee WASH across Pakistan.

The paper claims that overlapping mandates of ministries, government departments and other stakeholders contribute to non-implementation of existing laws, regulations and policies and prevent accountability for lack of access to WASH facilities across Pakistan. It identifies inadequate budget allocation for the WASH sector as another big challenges for implementation of policies. It says that while public financing for WASH has increased in the last decade the budgets are still largely inadequate to provide access to WASH services across Pakistan, keeping in view vulnerable groups. Moreover, there is lack of sufficient oversight with regards to successful release of and utilisation of existing allocated budgets.

The paper calls for immediate attention of parliamentarians at both federal and provincial levels. “Parliamentarians are integral to formulating clear, coherent, effective and efficient laws and policies to strengthen access to WASH in Pakistan, in compliance with several international and regional commitments,” mentions the WaterAid policy paper.

It calls for recognition of the rights to water, sanitation and hygiene as a fundamental right reflected in the constitution and legislation of the federal and provincial parliaments; Review and revision of existing laws, policies and regulations on WASH to ensure laws are human rights compliant, coherent and clear in their scope and authority; Repeal and amendment of specific provisions, laws, regulations and policies that are no longer in use, are outdated or have been effectively removed by newer legislation and increase in the budget allocations.

The paper also suggest increase in oversight for the implementation of the WASH framework and the effective utilisation of an allocated budget for the WASH sector and use of existing parliamentary tools and forums to push the WASH agenda, including legislation, implementation and allocation of more appropriate budgets for the WASH sector.

The paper also recommend strengthening of coordination at national and provincial levels with relevant stakeholders to effectively monitor and advocate for the rights to water and sanitation.

Mayra Imran

Myra Imran works as a staff reporter for The News in Islamabad and is an award-winning journalist. She is Joint Secretary for National Press Club, Islamabad.
Myra reports on human rights issues, including water and sanitation. Her expertise is on women issues. She was declared ‘Media Woman of the Year’ by the Excellence Award Foundation and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in 2009. The following year, she was presented the ‘Benazir Women in Leadership Award’ by the Ministry of Human Rights. In 2010 she directed a documentary on the post-earthquake situation in Balakot, one of the worst affected areas in the October 2005 earthquake.

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