Bosnia & Herzegovina and Tajikistan: Analysing the Water and Sanitation Situation through a HRBA lens

This country example is based on an interview with Katy Norman, Consultant with UNDP Energy and Environment Group, and taken from the Source Document:  Experiences in applying Human Rights-Based Approaches, UN Staff Service College, May 2010.


In the CIS region, water and sanitation conditions are in a terrible state. Water infrastructure and governance are particularly bad. Efforts to address this problem have largely focused on infrastructure. This has had little result. Not much has changed in 10-20 years. Clearly, a different approach was needed. A HRBA, with its focus on governance issues, was seen as an approach that could have a wider and more sustainable impact. The UNDP Europe and CIS Regional Centre decided to try and incorporate a HRBA into its water governance projects in the region. The hope was that by doing so, people‟s access to safe potable water and sanitation would be improved. This „HRBA experience‟ focuses on the experience of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Tajikistan.


The human rights principles of non-discrimination and equality guided the situational analysis of water and sanitation in both countries. This helped to

identify the specific groups that were marginalised in regards to access to water. In BiH these groups included displaced people, Roma, minority returnees, school children and people with disabilities. In Tajikistan it concerned primarily individuals in rural communities, schools and medical institutions. These are the main groups that UNDP water projects needed to target.

Accountability and the rule of law was another guiding principle of the analysis. Abiding by this principle led to discussions with national Ombudsmen on the accountability structures for water and sanitation issues. This helped the team identify major capacity gaps in accountability systems. In both Bosnia & Herzegovina and Tajikistan, the judiciary lacks the capacity to deal with water and sanitation issues; people do not know that they have a right to redress when prevented from accessing these services; they do not know how to file a claim; and there is no access to information on water plans and policies. Moreover national laws on water at times do not meet international standards. When the laws are there, they rarely enforced. If people‟s taps are turned off, or if schools lack adequate sanitation facilities, people simply accept the situation.

To address this gap, one strategy the project plans to implement is awareness raising campaigns in both countries. The aim is to raise awareness that sufficient and affordable safe water is a right; that people have a right to redress when that right is unmet or violated; and that with the right to water come responsibilities, i.e. responsibly managing and conserving water.


The main challenge the project has faced is financing. Donors appear reluctant to fund HRBA programmes. The concept of a HRBA is still seen as new with little evidence of impact. It is also a sensitive concept. Some donors find it too political. To address this challenge, the project had to emphasise the projects goal of “improving governance” and access to water, rather than realising the “right” to water.

However, the local communities and authorities with whom the project is working have been enthusiastic about a HRBA. They think it offers a way for water and sanitation development projects to finally reach their objectives. The focus on accountability and capacity development of right holders are elements that are particularly popular. People feel they will finally be able to hold authorities to account over their commitments for water and sanitation. With a focus on “rights” and “obligations” they think it will likely result in a stronger commitment by their governments.

Lessons Learned

The project is only at the implementation stage. Talking about impact is premature. However, the experience of using a HRBA at the analysis stage has provided a few important lessons:

  1. A HRBA provides a more comprehensive view of the situation. It takes the analysis beyond a focus on technical issues, to also address issues of accountability and governance.
  2. Involving non-traditional partners for water and sanitation development programmes, such as Ombudsmen, human rights ministries and human rights NGOs can bring in a new perspective to the analysis. Their knowledge of the judicial framework and the areas and groups most marginalised in regards to water access has proved very useful.
  3. A pragmatic approach to applying a HRBA is needed. Not all human rights principles need to or can be promoted to the same extent in all situations. In one context, there may be a need to focus more on accountability and less on non-discrimination. In another, participation may be the key issue and accountability not as relevant. The HRBA framework should be adapted to the specific context in which it is being applied.
  4. Both citizens‟ rights and responsibilities in relation to water should be recognised and emphasised in HRBA projects, i.e. with the right to sustainable access to safe potable water comes the responsibility to manage water carefully.


For additional information, please see the source document.