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Book description

This analysis of the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation (HRtWS) uncovers why some groups around the world are still excluded from these rights. Léo Heller, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitation, draws on his own research in nine countries and reviews the theoretical, legal, and political issues involved. The first part presents the origins of the HRtWS, their legal and normative meanings and the debates surrounding them. Part II discusses the drivers, mainly external to the water and sanitation sector, that shape public policies and explain why individuals and groups are included in or excluded from access to services. In Part III, public policies guided by the realization of HRtWS are addressed. Part IV highlights populations and spheres of living that have been particularly neglected in efforts to promote access to services.


‘This book provides solid grounding; systematically debunks some frequent casual criticisms; teases apart critical stakeholders and functions; and constructively tackles complex issues like affordability, regulation; discrimination and disadvantage, displaced populations and public places. It will be useful for anyone seeking to learn about linking human rights with real-world progress in water and sanitation.’

Jamie Bartram - Professor University of Leeds, UK and Professor Emeritus, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

‘This book provides a one-of-a-kind analysis on the human rights to water and sanitation based on Leo Heller's six years of experience as the UN Special Rapporteur and his contribution to the promotion of those rights. A must read for all champions of the human rights to water and sanitation – equally for those who are not very familiar with the subject and those who have followed Heller's work as the UN Special Rapporteur’

Michelle Bachelet - UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

‘Through his book, Professor Leo Heller brings together the theory and practice of the human rights to water and sanitation, offering the reader invaluable and unique insights coming not only from his rich academic career, but also from his mandate as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation. His analysis, stories and examples transport the reader to the country visits he undertook and confront us with the concrete and practical challenges in the realization of these basic human rights.’

Catarina de Albuquerque - first UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation and CEO of the Sanitation and Water for All Partnership

‘Listening to the people whose human rights have been violated is essential. Leo Heller, in his mandate at the UN, listened with particular attention to them, and this book emerges from an empathetic listening, dialogue and reflection. A book that rigorously outlines concepts that can be seen as elusive and diffuse, and ends up highlighting actions for the effective fulfilment of human rights, empowering social movements and rights defenders.’

Pedro Arrojo-Agudo - current Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation

‘Heller’s book Human Rights to Water and Sanitation (2022) brings together theory and praxis from around the globe to provide a rich resource that analyses the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation (HRtWS) through the conceptual framework of drivers, policies and people. Heller writes to broaden our interpretation and understanding of HRtWS, and aims to answer a seminal question: How can the water and sanitation sector transform itself, and incorporate and contribute more to the realization of the Human Rights Framework?’

Hannah Keren Lee Source: Environment & Urbanization

‘Overall, Heller makes a compelling moral and political case for the human rights to water and sanitation. 'Where, after all, do universal human rights begin?' asked Eleanor Roosevelt. 'In small places, close to home-so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world.' Heller’s account of human rights to water and sanitation remains close to this philosophy, urging the reader to look at small places within the household, behind prison walls, inside school lavatories, and around marketplaces. His book reflects insights from a lifetime of dedication to this most human of human rights.’

Isha Ray - University of California Berkeley

‘A brilliant synopsis of scholarly debates and a powerful tool through which scholars, policymakers and activists might invest human rights with greater meaning.’

Alex Loftus - Department of Geography, King’s College London

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