In the past, human rights discussions have largely ignored water and especially sanitation. But after years of fierce debate the Human Rights Council adopted, on 30th September 2010 by consensus, the resolution (A/HRC/15/L.14) affirming that access to safe drinking water and sanitation is a human right.
An important step to the legal recognition was achieved on 28 July 2010, when the UN General Assembly declared, “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.” Furthermore, it urges countries to "scale-up efforts to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable water and sanitation for all." After more than 15 years of contentious debate on the issue, 122 countries voted in favour of a compromise, none objecting, while the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, Botswana and 36 other nations abstained.
Before that historic day, other legal basis on international human rights were used, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child entailing obligations in relation to access to safe drinking water and sanitation.
The Human Rights Council of the began the process to clarify the argument in 2007 by releasing a study on relevant human rights obligations related to equitable access to safe drinking water and sanitation under international human rights instruments and by appointing an independent expert. The following dialogue involved governments, United Nations organizations, local authorities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the private sector, and academic institutions. Significant steps in this process included a public and an expert consultation in April 2009, to the latter, WSSCC contributed substantially.