Right to water

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There is now, in formal international human rights law, an acknowledged human right to water and sanitation. In 28 July 2010, following many years of discussion, debate, and negotiation, 122 countries formally acknowledged the "right to water" in a General Assembly (GA) resolution (A/64/292, based on draft resolution A/64/L.63/Rev.1).[1] Two months later, on September 24, 2010, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a binding resolution recognizing that the human right to water and sanitation are a part of the right to an adequate standard of living.[2] While now recognized in international law, the human right to water is not enforceable at a national level until incorporated into national legislation.[3]

That resolution, in part:

"Affirms that the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation is derived from the right to an adequate standard of living and inextricably related to the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, as well as the right to life and human dignity"

The human right to water places certain responsibilities upon governments to ensure that people can enjoy "sufficient, safe, accessible and affordable water, without discrimination" (cf. GC 15, below). Most especially, governments are expected to take reasonable steps to avoid a contaminated water supply and to ensure there are no water access distinctions amongst citizens.

Introduction[edit]

"It is now time to consider access to safe drinking water and sanitation as a human right, defined as the right to equal and non-discriminatory access to a sufficient amount of safe drinking water for personal and domestic uses—drinking, personal sanitation, washing of clothes, food preparation and personal and household hygiene—to sustain life and health. States should prioritize these personal and domestic uses over other water uses and should take steps to ensure that this sufficient amount is of good quality, affordable for all and can be collected within a reasonable distance from a person's home." [4]

The number of people lacking access to improved sources of drinking water (an imperfect proxy indicator for safe drinking water) is 780 million and more than 2.6 billion lack access to basic sanitation services.<WHO/UNICEF, 2013> <Update report 2013 of the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation>. The resolution laments the fact that (at the time of adoption in 2010) 884 million people lack access to safe drinking water and that more 2.6 billion do not have access to basic sanitation.[5] This formulation underscores the existing confusion over access to improved sources of drinking water and access to safe drinking water. In reality, an estimated 3 billion people lack access to safe drinking water - safe being defined by the guideline values contained in the WHO Drinking Water Quality Guidelines.

Given the fact that water access is a cross-border source of concern and potential conflict in the Middle East, the Eastern Mediterranean and parts of North America amongst other places, some Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and scholars argue that the right to water also has a trans-national or extraterritorial aspect. They argue that given the fact that water supplies naturally overlap borders, States also have a legal obligation not to act in a way that might have a negative effect on the enjoyment of human rights in other States.[6] The formal acknowledgement of this further legal obligation could prevent the negative effects of the global "water crunch" (as a future threat and one negative result of humans over-population).[2]

Right to water in international law[edit]

Several international human rights conventions[7] state provisions which could amount to an explicit recognition of the right to water. For example the 1989 Convention on the rights of the child (CRC) states: " Article 24. States parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health … 2. States parties shall pursue full implementation of this right and, in particular, shall take appropriate measures: (c) To combat disease and malnutrition, including within the framework of primary health care, through, inter alia, (…) the provision of adequate nutritious foods and clean drinking water (…)"[8]

The 1979 Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) also states: " Article 14 (2) States parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in rural areas to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, that they participate in and benefit from rural development and, in particular shall ensure to women the right: … (h) To enjoy adequate living conditions, particularly in relation to housing, sanitation, electricity and water supply, transport and communications."[9]

Article 28(2)(a) of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) provides: "States parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to social protection and to the enjoyment of that right without discrimination on the basis of disability, and shall take appropriate steps to safeguard and promote the realization of this right, including measures to ensure equal access by persons with disabilities to clean water services, and to ensure access to appropriate and affordable services, devices and other assistance for disability-related needs."

However the most detailed definition of the content of the right to water came in 2002 from an expert body (CESCR) assessing the implementation of the ICESCR (International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights),[10] a treaty only recognizing "implicitly" the right to water. This definition is detailed in General Comment 15 (hereafter GC 15), in which the Committee asserts: "The human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses. An adequate amount of safe water is necessary to prevent death from dehydration, to reduce the risk of water-related disease and to provide for consumption, cooking, personal and domestic hygienic requirements. "[11]

Following the publication of GC 15, several States agreed and formally acknowledged the right to water to be part of their treaty obligations under the ICESCR (cf. e.g. in Europe: Germany;[12] United Kingdom;[13] Netherlands[14])

Political recognition of the right to water[edit]

This legal recognition must be distinguished from the international process promoting the recognition and the further definition of the right to water under international law. The main reason is that no legal obligation derives from a political acknowledgement (E.g. United Nations General assembly resolutions). However, it is important not to underestimate the political pressure which civil society might exercise towards governments while reminding them of their commitments (cf. the work of civil society in the field of Millennium Development Goals - MDGs which are only political commitments) as well as the fact that political acknowledgements might be used before courts so as to assess customary international law.

An initial step in 2006 was taken by the former United Nations Sub-commission on Human Rights which issued Guidelines.[15]

These guidelines led the United Nations Human Rights Council to mandate in 2008, Ms Catarina de Albuquerque, as an Independent expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation.[16]

Eventually, on 28 July 2010, following an intense negotiation, 122 countries formally acknowledged the "right to water" in the General Assembly (GA) resolution (A/64/292, based on draft resolution A/64/L.63/Rev.1).[17] In September, 2010, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution recognizing that the human right to water and sanitation are a part of the right to an adequate standard of living.[18]

Organizations involved in "right to water"[edit]

  1. International organisations:
  2. Governmental cooperation agencies:
    • DFID (United Kingdom's Cooperation Agency)
    • GTZ (German Cooperation Agency)
    • SDC (Swiss Development Cooperation)[19]
  3. Research and Development NGOs: Madre Acqua[20]
  4. Development NGOs: Freshwater Action Network (FAN),[21] WaterAid, Transnational Institute with the Water Justice project [22]
  5. Humanitarian NGOs: Action against Hunger (ACF),
  6. Human Rights NGOs: COHRE,[23] The DigDeep Right to Water Project,[24] WaterLex,[25] UUSC[26]

References[edit]

  1. ^ See http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2010/ga10967.doc.htm ; The full text of the UN GA resolution is available at: http://doc.un.org/DocBox/docbox.nsf/GetFile?OpenAgent&DS=A/64/L.63/REV.1&Lang=F&Type=PDF
  2. ^ Right to water and sanitation derive from the right to an adequate standard of living. This resolution is considered binding under international law. http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=10403&LangID=E
  3. ^ Advocates for International Development's Legal Guide to the Right to Water; http://a4id.org/sites/default/files/user/%5BA4ID%5D%20Right%20to%20Water.pdf; Reed Smith; 2012; accessed on 23 August 2013
  4. ^ Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on The Right to Water, September 2007
  5. ^ http://www.france24.com/en/20100728-un-declares-access-clean-water-human-right.
  6. ^ Hausmann, Ute, Globalising economic and social human rights by strengthening extraterritorial state obligations (Brot für die Welt, FIAN and CEED, October 2006), available at: http://fian.org/resources/documents/others/germanys-extraterritorial-human-rights-obligations-in-multilateral-development-banks/pdf
  7. ^ A detailed list is available at: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/water/iexpert/standards.htm.
  8. ^ The full text of the Convention on the rights of the child is available at: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/crc.htm.
  9. ^ The full text of the Convention is available at: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/cedaw.htm.
  10. ^ The Covenant is available at: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cescr.htm.
  11. ^ CESCR, GC 15, 2002, para 2. The full text is available at: http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/0/a5458d1d1bbd713fc1256cc400389e94?Opendocument.
  12. ^ For more information: http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/diplo/en/Aussenpolitik/Themen/Menschenrechte/MRVN-Wasser.html.
  13. ^ For more information: http://www.righttowater.info/code/UKGovnews.asp
  14. ^ For more information: http://www.irc.nl/page/39765.
  15. ^ UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, Sub-commission guidelines on the realization of the right to drinking water and sanitation, Report of the Special Rapporteur El Hadji Guissé, UN document E/CN.4/Sub.2/2005/25, 2006, available at: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/water/docs/SUb_Com_Guisse_guidelines.pdf.
  16. ^ For more information: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/water/iexpert/overview.htm.
  17. ^ See http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2010/ga10967.doc.htm ; The full text of the UN GA resolution is available at: http://doc.un.org/DocBox/docbox.nsf/GetFile?OpenAgent&DS=A/64/L.63/REV.1&Lang=F&Type=PDF
  18. ^ Right to water and sanitation derive from the right to an adequate standard of living. http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=10403&LangID=E
  19. ^ For more information see: http://www.deza.admin.ch/en/Home/Themes/Water/Access_to_water_An_inalienable_human_right.
  20. ^ For more information see the official website: http://www.MadreAcqua.org
  21. ^ For more information see the official website: http://www.freshwateraction.net
  22. ^ [1] Water Justice project on TNI website
  23. ^ Official website: http://www.cohre.org
  24. ^ Official website: http://digdeepwater.org
  25. ^ Official website: http://www.waterlex.org
  26. ^ Official website:http://www.uusc.org/environmentaljustice

Further reading[edit]

  • Gleick, Peter, 1999. The Human Right to Water. Water Policy, Volume 5, pp. 487–503. (1999). [3]
  • Langford, Malcolm. "The United Nations Concept of Water as a Human Right: A New Paradigm for Old Problems?" Water Resources Development Vol. 21, No.2, 273-282, June 2005
  • United Nations. General Comment 15. 2003. "The Right to Water". The Economic and Social Council, E/C.12/2002/11. [4]
  • George, Susan; Nhlapo, Mthandeki; Waldorff, Peter (April 2011). "The politics of achieving the Right to Water". Transnational Institute. 
  • Terminski, Bogumil. "Selected bibliography on the human right to water", Geneva, 2013.
  • McGraw, George S. "Defining and Defending the Right to Water and its Minimum Core: Legal Construction and the Role of National Jurisprudence" Loyola University Chicago International Law Review Vol. 8, No. 2, 127-204 (2011). [5]

External links[edit]