Ten years after the United Nation’s recognition of the human right to water and sanitation (HRtWS), little is understood about how these right impacts access to sanitation. There is limited identification of the mechanisms responsible for improvements in sanitation, including the international and constitutional recognition of rights to sanitation and water. We examine a core reason for the lack of progress in this field: data quality. Examining data availability and quality on measures of access to sanitation, we arrive at three findings: (1) where data are widely available, measures are not in line with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets, revealing little about changes in sanitation access; (2) data concerning safe sanitation are missing in more country-year observations than not; and (3) data are missing in the largest proportions from the poorest states and those most in need of progress on sanitation. Nonetheless, we present two regression analyses to determine what effect rights recognition has on improvements in sanitation access. First, the available data are too limited to analyze progress toward meeting SDGs related to sanitation globally, and especially in regions most urgently needing improvements. Second, utilizing more widely available data, we find that rights seem to have little impact on access.

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