Sanitary facilities - toilets, showers and washbasins - are everyday features which are of great importance especially in situations where people are deprived of their liberty, when detainees find themselves in a situation of total dependence on the authorities. Regular access to clean facilities in good working condition is essential to maintain people’s dignity. When these conditions are not met, the everyday life of detainees is seriously adversely affected. Not taking into account these basic needs may constitute cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, or even torture.
The cleanliness of the sanitary facilities is essential not only in order to respect people’s dignity but also to prevent the transmission of infectious diseases, as most diseases contracted in prisons are transmitted by the faecal-oral route. Lack of water and inadequate access to showers also affects personal hygiene and increases the risk of contracting diseases.
The condition of the pipes, drainage system, and of the sanitary facilities in general is important to guarantee good hygiene in the establishment and to prevent water wastage. Lack of water may be a consequence of damaged taps or pipework, insufficient pressure, or drought. It is essential that right from the design stage of places of detention, climatic factors (including seasonal changes), and access to the drainage system and needs in line with capacity are duly taken into account.
The water available must be able to be allocated in a rational way between the toilets, washbasins and showers in order to guarantee the personal hygiene of the detainees, but also between the kitchen, sick bay, waste disposal, garden watering (especially for the kitchen gardens, if there are any), and for the needs of the staff working in the establishment. When the living quarters of warders are adjacent to the place of detention, their need for water and their guarantee of hygiene must obviously be taken into account as well.
According to the minimum standards laid down by the ICRC, the amount of water necessary for survival is 3-5 litres per person per day, and 10-15 litres per person per day to cover all minimum needs and remain in good health, as long as the other services and facilities are also in good working order (ICRC and WHO).