Mr Malcolm Langford(i)

Centre on Housing Rights and Eviction, Germany; Visiting Fellow, Norwegian Centre on Human Rights, University of Oslo

Tragedy or triumph of the Commons? Human rights and the world water crises


The ‘world water crisis’ has been variously identified as the massive degradation of freshwater resources, the large-scale inequities in access to drinking water and the relentless drive to privatise water services and resources.  Human rights have been promoted as an antidote to these environmental, social and political forces, as is exemplified by the recent UN endorsement of the human right to water. The paper analyses the extent to which human rights offers a coherent framework for reshaping our understanding and response to the world water crisis.


The word ‘crisis’ is often misused(ii) but in the case of water, it is difficult not to be apocalyptical. In the last decade, the contemporary magnitude of the problems associated with the management and distribution of water resources has finally seeped into public consciousness, and, in 2006, the ‘global water crisis’ was headlined in the UNDP’s Human Development Report, which opened with the cry that “Water, the stuff of life and a basic human right, is at the heart of a daily crisis faced by countless millions of the world’s most vulnerable people—a crisis that threatens life and destroys livelihoods on a devastating scale”.( iii)

But the phrase ‘world water crisis’ deserves some disentangling. Reflecting the discourse developed from the interplay of local experience and political ideology, it means different things to different people in different places. In the West, the global water crisis is frequently understood as environmental, largely a result of the West’s own struggle with the by-products of industrialisation, commercial agriculture and population growth. It is not much of a leap to then understand the unfolding crisis elsewhere, where the United Nations estimates that a quarter of the world currently live in river basins that are ‘closed’ (water use exceeds minimum recharge levels) and that the number of people in water stressed countries areas is expected to grow from 700 million to 3 billion in 2025,(iv) while groundwater reserves continue to rapidly shrink due to as surface water is exhausted and pollution remains persistent. All of India’s 14 major river systems being badly polluted - 200 million litres of raw sewage are dumped into the Yamuna river every day – while in Malaysia and Thailand rivers often contain 30-100 times the permissible pathogen load.(v) Government studies in China indicate that about 400 of China's 600 cities lack an adequate supply of water for future growth and are draining underground aquifers to “dangerously low levels”.(vi)

While it may be instinctive to think that the problem is population growth and that we simply cannot afford to give everyone enough water to drink – a similar fallacy is often expressed with respect to food(vii) – the principal ‘villains’ are not standing in the kitchen or even in the fields. Globally, the main users of water are irrigated agriculture (80 per cent) and industry (17 per cent). In Australia, this problematique is encapsulated by the Murray-Darling Basin, where irrigated agriculture accounts for four-fifths of water flows of the Murray River despite 30 per cent being required for the environmental purposes. The result is salinity, nutrient pollution and loss floodplains and wetlands. The river no longer reaches the sea.(viii) Added to this, is the effect of climate change and water resources, with the first reported ‘victims of climate change’ being inland pastoral nomads in Kenya whose lands and herds have been decimated by persistent ‘drought’ due to a change in weather patterns. It is estimated that climate change will increase global water scarcity by 20 per cent through a movement of rainfall patterns away form highly populated areas together with an increase in variable weather, such as floods and droughts.(ix)

The second use of the phrase, ‘world water crisis’, is social. The commonly quoted statistic is that 1.1 billion persons lack access to a basic water supply (roughly defined as 20 litres from a relatively trustworthy water source). But the figure is most likely even higher. In-depth studies by UN-Habitat demonstrate that for many people, particularly those living in the vast informal settlements of the developing world, water supply is not regular or affordable and is often of questionable quality.(x) The impact of this crisis is seen in the deaths of approximately 5000 children every day from illnesses such as diarrhoea, the second biggest killers of young children. The lack of water adds a major strain on the perilous health of the world’s poor, scuttles the effectiveness of retroviral programs for HIV/AIDs, consumes precious time in order to access it, particularly for women and girls, and makes precarious the household budget due to high informal prices. In the informal settlement of Kibera in Nairobi, where I am involved in a number of projects, very few of the 700,000 residents have an adequate supply of water. While some pay money to vendors who are connected to the piped infrastructure, the prices can be 3 to 30 times what the middle class pays in other parts of the city, and for the poorest residents, the only option is sometimes the heavily polluted water dam. Yet local surveys consistently find that water and sanitation are the two highest priorities for the inhabitants of Kibera.(xi) Human rights activists also point to the problem of disconnections for those who are connected, particularly with the use of pre-paid meters.
But the lack of access to water is not only an issue for the developing world. Minorities in Europe, such as Roma and Travellers, face similar challenges. In the 240 Roma settlements in Greece, surveys indicate that only 30 per cent had access to running water (which was only cold water since 93 per cent lack access to electricity) and 50 per cent had no access to sewage facilities.(xii) In Australia, where infant mortality rates amongst Indigenous families are three times the national average,(xiii) the Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner has noted that while the majority of remote Indigenous communities are reliant on bore water, wells and rivers and reservoirs, 86 per cent of communities had not had their water tested, in contrast to the regular checks on water quality elsewhere in the country.

The social dimension is not limited to household uses of water. Poor and marginalised groups bear the brunt of other ‘water misuses’, disproportionately suffering the effects of pollution and over-consumption. In urban areas, poorer settlements are located near polluted areas, while waste from mines, oil refineries, and large-scale agriculture is regularly dumped in water resources used by poorer farmers and communities. Likewise, water flows upwards to those who pay the greatest price or can use more sophisticated technology to gain a disproportionate share. The UNDP notes the emergence of a system of ‘waterlords’ in Gujarat, who dominate a market for irrigated and drinking water. Even where the water has been taken from under the land of poor villagers, they are forced to buy the water back. The most glaring example of water inequity is perhaps Palestine. Jewish settlers not only consume 7 times as much household water a day as Palestinians (350 to 50 litres), but they dump much of their waste into Palestinian reservoirs,(xiv) and their settlements are directly located over the key water reserves in the West Bank, providing a different perspective on the motivation for the still-expanding settlements.

The third and last discourse on the world water crisis concerns the ongoing drive to harness market solutions in the water sector. While many actors agree on the need for pricing of water (particularly for commercial use and high volume personal use), there has been a push since the late 1980s to privatise the management and delivery of water resources, particularly from the World Bank, multinational water companies and national political communities enamoured of the privatisation. In relation to the delivery of water and sanitation services, the argument gained some traction since the public sector had failed in many countries despite the investment during the UN Decade for Water (1980 to 1990). However, the solution of privatisation has proved controversial, particularly in many developing (and some developed) countries where the conditions for ensuring corporate accountably do not exist. Private firms have a tendency to take the lucrative parts of the water system - the wealthier urban areas - while rural areas, deprived urban areas and the more unprofitable delivery of sanitation are excluded or put on the waiting list. With the elimination of cross-subsidies constituting part of the privatisation package, there is little incentive serve the more deprived areas. Many privatisations have also been preceded by tariff increases in order to make water services attractive for investment and there is a concern that privatisation may prevent the development of local technical capacity if all the expertise is developed within multinational water firms.

The most famous (or infamous) example was water privatisation in Bolivia, where a three-fold increase in price of drinking water by the California-registered company Bechtel Corporation led to street protests and the eventual withdrawal of the corporation. A comprehensive and comparative evidence-based survey by Wateraid of various privatisations found that the critics were generally proved right and that privatisation had not brought the promised benefits to the poor.(xv) In addition, there has been a more limited push for private ownership of water resources – for example in Chile and India – which has had particularly harmful effects for Indigenous and farming communities.

After a decade of promoting privatisation, the World Bank’s independent evaluators conceded that there was a notable lack of success but still recommended that the privatisation policy remain. For instance, in 2004 in Ghana, after a ten-year, high-profile and highly coordinated civil society campaign against water privatisation, the World Bank announced privatisation would proceed.(xvi) Remarkably, the price of water was to be linked to the exchange rate, in order to satisfy overseas investors, and not to the income levels of Ghanaians. There has, however, been a growing reluctance by some water companies to invest in poorer countries due to their growing unpopularity and the inability to charge consumers fees that will correspond to currency movements, in order to avoid the privatisation failures that occurred in Argentina and Philippines. But the key question remaining is whether the international community will provide financial support to countries wishing to rebuild their water sectors.

It is natural to question whether these three perspectives on the global water crisis are complementary or conflicting. Can we see them through the same lens? There is perhaps an even more challenging question: can we rank their seriousness? But that is largely beyond the scope of this paper. The environmental and social anthropocentric concerns do overlap to a large extent because the provision of household water, in particular drinking water, requires an extremely high quality of water.(xvii) Solving the access question will help solve the quality problem. Moreover, household uses account for only a small portion of water use, though conflicts between environmental and household use can sometimes arise. If sanitation is brought into the access to water equation, then provision of toilets and proper waste disposal system will obviously bring substantial environmental benefits.

The consistency between the social and anti-commodification perspectives is equally nuanced. The social dimension, or the human rights approach as we shall see, places certain conditions on the market that many water privatisations have failed to meet. On the other hand, in developed countries, where privatisation can be more controlled through regulation, the arguments are more subtle though criticism over private sector performance is significant in some countries. There has also been tension over issues such as disconnection and pricing levels.  With respect to environmental and anti-commodification, difference can emerge over the issue of pricing – the former favouring higher fees to promote conservation while the latter approach questions inequitable pricing and profiteering. On privatisation of water and sanitation infrastructure, and particularly water resources themselves, the two are often in accord.(xviii) For instance, private companies often seek to avoid providing sanitation, which requires heavy investment in waste treatment.

2. Human rights, international law and water

Until the 1970s, international instruments were largely silent on water access and conservation. The notable exception was the Geneva Conventions, which provided that occupying powers must provide access to minimum water supplies for prisoners and other interned persons(xix) and that water resources and infrastructure must be protected during armed conflict.(xx) This section will survey two significant legal developments in the field of human rights since that time, the right to environmental health and the right to water.

2.1 Right to environmental health

The foundation of the human rights approach to the environment was laid down in the 1972 Stockholm and 1992 Rio Summits.(xxi) Principle 1 of the Stockholm Declaration famously states, ‘Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being, and he bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment….’, and continues on to mention water and the need to protect natural resources for future generations. This linkage between human and environmental concerns was reaffirmed at Rio but the rights language was muted,(xxii) but the UN General Assembly, two years later, clearly reaffirmed the right to environmental health.(xxiii)

These high level summits paved the way for considerable international legal activity though few treaties specifically addressed the issue of water or took a human rights approach. Conventions on wetlands,(xxiv) climate change,(xxv) drought(xxvi) and biodiversity(xxvii) are obviously relevant though while the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child provided specific reference to need to protect children from environmental pollution.(xxviii) The one exception was the UN Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses, 1997. The Convention largely adopts the principle of equitable and reasonable utilisation whereby States must consider a number of objective factors in determining the lawfulness of uses of the watercourse.(xxix) In case of conflicting uses, vital human needs are to be prioritised. This Convention is not yet in force but is widely considered to codify the state of international customary law on non-navigable uses of international watercourses. Though States, such as Egypt, that have traditionally consumed the lion’s share of international watercourses are yet to relinquish any real control. Example: Egypt

At the national level, legal approaches, particularly in Western countries, were increasingly adopted to protect water resources, for example the establishment of independent agencies to prosecute polluters or conserve water resources, a practice that is slowly starting elsewhere. Examples include the Kenyan Environment and Coordinated Management Act and the South African National Water Act 1998, the latter ensures that water allocations take account of the environment and basic needs. Moreover, the notion of right to environmental health began to make traction as advocates invoked the principle in courts to counter various harmful practices. The most notable examples have emerged from South Asia where advocates have relied on the right to environmental health, often derived from the right to life, and the international declarations cited above, to challenge pollution, lack of sanitation and over-extraction of water resources.(xxx) Likewise, the constitutional revolutions in Latina America and Eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s brought a recognition that residents could petition courts for violations of the right to environmental health.(xxxi) Regional human rights bodies have adjudicated a number of cases touching the subject. For instance the African Commission on Human and People's Rights, for example, found that Nigeria had violated human rights to food and environmental health by failing to prevent Shell Oil from polluting water resources.(xxxii)

2.2 Human right to water

More recently there has been a surge of interest in declaring and enforcing a human right to water, which has been largely driven social and political concerns. There are a number of early incidents of international recognition, such as the UN Water Conference in 1977 which declared in the Mar del Plata Declaration that ‘all peoples, whatever their stage of development and their social and economic conditions, have the right to have access to drinking water in quantities and of a quality to their basic needs.’, together with inclusion in the 1992 Dublin Principles(xxxiii) and action plans emanating from the 1992 Rio(xxxiv) and 1994 Cairo(xxxv) summits, though the right was not explicitly included in the final statements at a number of international meetings on water.(xxxvi) Moreover, in 2001, the Committee of Ministers to Member States on the European Charter on Water Resources declared that ‘‘Everyone has the right to a sufficient quantity of water for his or her basic needs’, and they importantly noted that the right could be derived from international human rights instruments.(xxxvii) The 1979 Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women referred to the right of rural women to equal access to water and sanitation,(xxxviii) while the 1999 Protocol on Water and Health strongly affirms the duties of States to provide access to water but the rights dimension remained implicit.

At the national level,(xxxix) the most prominent example was South Africa. After including the right to water in the post-apartheid constitution, the Parliament went on to pass the Water Services Act, which provided for the ‘the right to access of to basic water supply and the right to basic sanitation necessary to secure sufficient water’.  In significant detail, the Act obliges every ‘water institution’ to take reasonable measures towards progressive realisation of the right to water, provides protection against unfair disconnections, sets the conditions for providing water, requires that water utilities give priority to ensuring basic access for all and mandates that tariffs take account of the right to water. Water services authorities must develop plans and submit to a system of monitoring. South Africa has significantly increased coverage with approximately 10 million new connections between 1994 and 2004. There is significant debate though over the numbers of disconnections that have occurred in this period(xl) but they have been tested in court on the basis of the right to water.(xli) Some other notable examples include Ecuador where the Constitution not only provides for the right to potable water, but the regulation of public and private utilities.(xlii)

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights  

In the last five years though, the centrepiece development has undoubtedly been the authoritative but non-binding General Comment No. 15 on the Right to Water, issued by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (‘Committee’) in November 2002.(xliii) The Committee from 1991 to 2002 had made clear that access to water formed a vital part of other social rights(xliv) but determined that water was an independent right implicit in the Covenant, thought not without some controversy. While the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights makes no reference to the right to water, the Committee were willing to imply the right in the article 11 of the Covenant on account of its non-restrictive wording. Article 11 provides that everyone has the ‘right to an adequate standard of living, including food, clothing and housing’ and the Committee reasoned as follows:

The use of the word ‘including’ indicates that this catalogue of rights was not intended to be exhaustive. The right to water clearly falls within the category of guarantees essential for securing an adequate standard of living, particularly since it is one of the most fundamental conditions for survival.(xlv)

The Committee also argued that the right to water can be derived from the umbrella right to health in Article 12 of the Covenant.

This ‘reading-in’ of the right to water has provoked some hostile reactions in the literature(xlvi) though the overwhelming bulk of the scholarship is supportive.(xlvii) In his article in the Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights, Stephen Tully levels a range of arguments against the General Comment, namely that Article 11 offers no interpretive space for ‘new’ rights given the seemingly endless list of important rights that could be added, an amendment to the Covenant was legally required in order to incorporate the right to water in the treaty, deference must be given to the State’s omission of water in the drafting of the Covenant and the fact that no UN agency has exclusive responsibility for water resources, the General Comment has received only a lukewarm or negative reaction from States and the topic of access to water would be better placed within other social rights, such as food, housing and health. He also argued that the right to water would offer no tangible palliative to the lack of access or the unaccountable influence of multinational water companies.

In our ensuing debate,(xlviii) I offered a number of key arguments in defence of the Committee’s position. The Committee clearly limits the expansion of the number of rights by requiring that they be comparable to food, clothing and housing and of a serious and fundamental nature, pointing to the links with right to life and survival, and its choice of the right to water is clearly supported by the significant recognition which it has been accorded in international law. This legal basis for the implication of the right removes the necessity for any amendment to the Covenant. That is required for significant changes, such as the ongoing discussion of an Optional Protocol to the Covenant to provide a formal complaints mechanism. The omission of the word ‘water’ by the drafters of the Covenant is not significant in the context of international treaty law (see the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties) and an examination of the travaux préparatoire clearly shows there is nothing to indicate that such a future step was opposed. The lack of an UN agency for water is a rather nonsensical proposition given the late creation of an agency for housing and the absence of one for clothing. In any case, UN Water was recently established as an initiative of 23 UN agencies.

With regard to governmental reaction, States have been significantly supportive of the General Comment since its release even if it does not feature in all international water conferences. In 2003, the European Parliament declared that water was a human right,(xlix) the UN Commission on Human Rights, in its annual omnibus resolution on economic, social and cultural rights has regularly taken note of the General Comment on the Right to Water’,(l) and it’s 2004 resolution on toxic wastes, strongly supported by developing states, the Commission referred to a range of rights, including the right to water.(li) The Group of 77 nations endorsed the right to water in a May 2006 resolution and in November 2006, the United Kingdom, reversed its position and unequivocally supported the right to water promising funding from its development agency for its implementation, and in April 2006, Spain and Germany commenced a process within the newly named Human Rights Council that aims to have an authoritative resolution and Special Rapporteur on the right to water in 2007. I also argued that keeping water under the bushel of the rights to health, housing and food diminishes its importance and the relevant UN human rights mechanisms for addressing those rights, such as Special Rapporteurs, have not been able to keep a steady focus on the issue. The question of the instrumental value of the General Comment will be taken up in the concluding section.
Rights and obligations

Beyond the recognition of the right, the Committee provided significant detail on its content. The most difficult issue was actually not the right’s implication, but its scope. Water is intrinsic to almost all aspects of human life, and human rights, but what was the universal inalienable entitlement? In the end, the Committee followed the approach of hiving off household water uses (consumption, cooking, hygiene and, where necessary, sanitation) from other uses on the basis that the former is universal, everyone requires an basic amount of water every today, which is approximately 50 litres of water per day, with 20 litres as a minimum,(lii) though others propose much higher amounts. But since water is also needed for food, for work and for environmental protection, the Committee struggled during its drafting on how to address these human rights dimensions of water use. Some people do not require water for such purposes while others require large quantities of water. In water-scarce areas, there are also conflicts between such uses. The Committee does, however, briefly address other uses of water under other Covenant rights, e.g. it notes that the right to food meant that efforts should be directed towards ‘ensuring that disadvantaged and marginalised farmers, including women farmers, have equitable access to water and water management systems’.(liii) In countries such as Ethiopia, access to such technologies would certainly increase protection of subsistence farmers against threats of famine.

The next question was the content of the right and here the Committee closely hued to its approach of identifying both the ‘supply and demand’ dimensions of the right.(liv) Water must be available in sufficient quantities, of adequate quality (WHO Guidelines are noted), accessible to people within or in close proximity to their homes, accessed without non-discrimination,(lv) and must be affordable. The Committee notes that it may need to be provided free in some circumstances.

The corresponding obligations of governments to realise the right to water are then broken down into three simple duties: respect, protect and fulfil. The duty to respect means that governments must not interfere unjustly with a person's access to water. For instance, households are often unfairly and arbitrarily disconnected, and the Committee clearly specifies that when a household cannot pay for water, disconnection should only proceed if there is sufficient justification, due process and an alternative adequate and appropriate water source.(lvi) It is notable that some countries have banned outright disconnections of water services to households and water utilities must use other means to recover payment.

The duty to protect means governments must ensure individuals or corporate bodies do not infringe the water rights of others.(lvii) While the Covenant does not place legal obligations directly on private actors, it requires that governments take action to prevent them from polluting water resources or charging unaffordable water prices. The Committee directly addressed the issue of private sector participation in water provision and set a number of criteria when it manifests. The State must ensure that the private sector acts consistently with democratic principles, particularly the right to participation - the World Bank often funds promotion of privatisation but not debates on other models - and create a sufficient regulatory framework, including penalties for non-compliance, to ensure that the private sector does not compromise the right to water. They should also ensure that private actors ultimately must take the necessary steps to assist in the realisation of the right to water, or at least not frustrate the objective. One should also not forget that the poorest groups do not rely on multinationals or even governments for water delivery but rather informal vendors or landowners. The General Comment should be seen as covering them and there is a critical need for regulation at this micro level.

The final obligation is the duty to fulfil. According to the Covenant, this requires that governments use all available resources to implement progressively the right to water. The right to water does not have to be realised overnight, but the government must immediately take steps in the direction of ensuring universal access. According to the General Comment, this includes developing a plan and strategy on expanding affordable access as well as protecting the quality of the water supply; actively searching for the available resources, nationally and locally; implementing the plan and monitoring its implementation over time; and providing systems of accountability so that citizens, NGOs and others can bring information or complaints about failures in the system. The General Comment also refers to the need for States to ensure that regional governments and local authorities have sufficient resources to ensure the right to water and do not discriminate.(lviii)

Governments also have international responsibilities under Article 2 (1) of the ICESCR to take steps through international cooperation and technical assistance to assist other States realise the right to water. The Committee sets out a clear taxonomy of responsibilities for States, requiring them to respect the right in other countries, prevent their nationals and registered corporations from harming the rights of others overseas, taking steps to provide financial and in-kind support to poorer countries struggling to assist their residents, and to ensure that the international financial institutions, of which they are members, do not violate the right.(lix)

3. Implications of the human right to water for the world water crises

The Committee’s articulation of the human right to water therefore provides a response to the demands of three crises identified earlier, although the particularities may vary according to the crisis. Since the human right to water clearly has a social and ends-based thrust, with its development emphasis on the right of all people to access water, as opposed to clear-cut environmental objectives, some commentators have objected to the lack of emphasis on the conservation issues.(lx) But the document does provide a fairly exhaustive list of steps that governments should take to protect water resources, even preventing the harmful effects of climate change,(lxi) and devotes an entire paragraph to the issue of sanitation.(lxii) As noted earlier though, it is often the drive for clean water that will provide the impetus for governments to address the requisite environmental requirements.

Some commentators have been critical of the Committee for not being more forthright on the issue of privatisation. Craven argues that that the Committee should not be “legislating for its own absence – or excluding its own competence” in an area “in which the Committee’s voice is perhaps most needed”.(lxiii) An earlier public draft of the General Comment was much stronger, calling for deferral of privatisation until sufficient regulatory systems were in place.(lxiv)  On the other hand, some members of the Committee who were concerned about privatisation, stated in public session on the draft that water not only was an individual right, but it was also a public good, and this position is reflected in the opening sentence of the General Comment. This opening salvo from the Committee has been interpreted by some as a clear disinclination for private water solutions. At the national level, civil campaigns have attempted to make this explicit, and in Uruguay, a referendum in October 2004 inserted the right to water in the constitution with a proviso that the water supply was to remain public.(lxv)

The placement of the right to water at the forefront of this year’s UNDP Human Development report also gives credence to the somewhat familiar proposition that it is an idea whose time has come. The first recommendation from the UNDP is that national governments ‘make water a human right– and mean it’,(lxvi) and the list of ensuing suggestions largely mirror that of the General Comment. Even the rights-sceptical Economist acknowledges the merits of the ‘rational’ approach advocated by UNDP, and its posterchild of South Africa (instead of the Economist’s favourites – Chile and Colombia), though the magazine scoffs at the prospect that governments will take up the model, predicting that the poor will simply ‘continue to turn to the “other private sector” [informal water vendors], which is often the only provider they can rely on’.(lxvii)

However, an examination of the implications of a rights-based approach to water issues yields not only a laundry list of strategies, but an array of examples where the approach has been successful in practice. One notable example fuses social and environmental concerns. In Argentina, the Center for Human Rights and Environment (CEDHA) launched legal action against provincial and municipal authorities for failing to prevent pollution of communal water sources,(lxviii) with the culprit being an under-maintained and over-stretched sewer-treatment plant. The Court implied the right to water from the constitutional right to health, quoted the General Comment no. 15, and ordered as follows:

[T]he municipality of Córdoba adopt all of the measures necessary relative to the functioning of the [facility], in order to minimise the environmental impact caused by it, until a permanent solution can be attained with respect to its functioning; and that the Provincial State assure the [plaintiffs] a provision of 200 daily litres of safe drinking water, until the appropriate public works be carried out to ensure the full access to the public water service, as per decree 529/94.

The result of the legal action has been a number of positive actions by the municipality, which presented an ‘integral sewage plan’, budgeted at US$7.75 million, for rehabilitation and expansion of plant capacity. In December 2004, the Province of Córdoba began work on the water provisioning system and has laid pipes for a number of neighbourhoods and promised to provide the necessary pipes for home connections. The Municipal Congress also passed a law dictating that all sewage and sanitation taxes – approximately US$10 million a year – are to be invested exclusively in the sewage system.

This case is one of a number in which Courts have specifically taken up the right to water and applied it in concrete circumstances.(lxix) The right has also been recently invoked before international tribunals adjudicating disputes between multinational water companies and host countries. In a case concerning Suez/Vivendi’s challenge to the Argentinean government’s freezing of water tariffs in January 2002, CELS and other Argentinean NGOs seminally obtained the right to intervene in in proceedings hosted by the International Complaint Settlement on Investment Disputes (ICSID), an arm of the World Bank. The normally secretive tribunal recognised that most cases of investment treaty arbitration involved matters of public interest and that cases involving water distribution and sewage systems raised questions of human rights.  ICSID held that, ‘these systems provide basic public services to millions of people and as a result may raise a variety of complex public and international law questions, including human rights considerations.’ (lxx) They then invited third parties to submit concrete submissions on the topic.
While legal action plays a role in monitoring government performance, there is a clear need for clear legislative frameworks and sufficient political will and civil society mobilisation together with international support. While political will may vary between States, making the right clear and justiciable in practice legal framework provides a strong basis for actions to compel the more reluctant government to move forward. The South African model is one example of a legislative response but there are others. The Wallonia region of Belgium adopted a detailed civil code on water, which recognises the right to water and includes a number of provisions to ensure affordability, the primary role of the public sector and the allocation of sufficient funding.(lxxi) A recent law in Honduras requires a plebiscite prior to privatisation in any municipality. Finland’s Water Services Act requires Municipalities to establish water supply plants if there are relatively large numbers of inhabitants or there are considerations of health or environmental protection, separate water finances from other revenues to prevent financial leakage, and charges must be reasonable and equitable for all users.

But ensuring the implementation of legislation and international law at the national and local level requires formidable political will and therefore significant civil society mobilisation and international support. A rights-based approach will require ensuring that access for marginalised and marginalised groups is prioritised, that accountability measures to control for powerful actors are made concrete, that there is adequate and effective participation, particularly by women, adequate investment in infrastructure, nuanced pricing polices, and ensuring that subsidies that flow in the direction of the poor and the environment, not the rich. Informal settlements face a particular problem as they are often denied the right to connect to public (or private) water systems on the basis that this might legitimates the informal occupation of the land. But the General Comment provides that a person's housing status should not be an obstacle to their right to access water,(lxxii) and creative solutions need to be, and have been, found.(lxxiii)

At the political level, some States have been prepared to articulate a vision of the right to water and follow it with concrete action. In 2005, in Belgium, the federal government adopted a ‘water resolution’ which recognised the human right to access to safe water and the need for its inclusion in the constitution.(lxxiv) The resolution calls for a significant increase in development aid for drinking water and sanitation and demands that developing countries should not be pressured by international financial or trade institutions to liberalise or privatise their water markets. Likewise Britain followed its recognition of the right to water in November 2006 with a promise of significant funding for the issue. The right to water discourse has also enabled a wide array of social actors to find a common language (from environmental to social to political groups) on the issue and move forward on a range of projects to implement the right to water. Emilie Filmer-Wilson sets out a number of examples of where right-based approaches to development have been used,(lxxv) particularly in the areas of equality and non-discrimination, participation and international water conflicts.(lxxvi) And the significant number of fact-finding missions on right to water(lxxvii) have led to some innovative projects to use explicit rights-based approaches.(lxxviii)

But the right to water is not going to address all of the deeper environmental problems for example. Indeed, one wonders whether if this right to environmental health was justiciable in Australia, whether the state and national governments would have been compelled much earlier to address the over-irrigation of the Murray-Darling Basin, one of the most water-stressed areas in the world. Since large-scale irrigators possess significant political and financial clout, it may be just the issue to ‘throw’ to the Courts. Public interest litigation in India has been able to address environmental issues of this scale. Likewise, while the challenge of privatisation remains, significant effort by the international donor community is now going into ‘corporatisation’ reforms that would strip water and sanitation provision from local authorities and give it to water companies accountable to independent Boards established in each water catchment area. While this is a more modest approach, the problem with this long-term reform, for example that underway in Kenya currently, is that it is not always clear whether the water companies will be sufficiently accountable due to the total lack of participation in the design of the system, and the failure of these reforms to provide for any short-term immediate solutions.  Even while the right to water carries a clear social message, challenges abound in ensuring that the right to water remain Benthamite ‘nonsense upon stilts’. This includes not only poor developing countries with weaker institutions but countries where only a small, usually ethnic, minority lack water. Ireland and Greece have highly funded housing programmes to respectively assist Travellers and Roma access water, but the hostility of local communities, the lack of political will amongst local authorities, and the refusal of national governments to hold local governments accountable, has scuttled most of the initiatives.

The global water crisis is not only a traditional tragedy of the commons, where private interest results in loss of a public natural resource. The current dominance of non-public interests in decisions over public finances and public investments and delivery models leads to a similarly tragic denial of the human right to water. The challenge for all is whether a rights-based approach, the latest proposal from the international community, can provide a triumphant palliative.

(i) Malcolm Langford was also the Founding Coordinator of the Right to Water Programme at the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (2001-2004). He is also European Research Associate with the Australian Human Rights Centre, University of New South Wales. He can be contacted at
(ii) Ney notes with some irony that: “Like any good yarn, policy stories have settings (basic assumptions), villains (the policy problem and who or what is causing them), heroes (the policy solution and who or what should be responsible), and, of course, a road leading to a happy end (concrete prescriptions for reform). Each contribution tells a slightly different story of the same issue: each identifies problems, apportions blame, and claims to provide solutions.” S. Ney, ‘Inception Report, PEN-REF Project (Deliverable D1), ICCR, Vienna (2000) quoted in Rune Ervik, Global Normative Standards and National Solutions for Pension Provision: The World Bank, ILO, Norway and South Africa in Comparative Perspective, Working Paper 8-2003, Stein Rokkan Centre for Social Studies, April 2003, p. 7.
(iii) See Beyond Scarcity: Power, power and the global water crisis, United Nations Development Report (New York, UNDP, 2006), p.1.
(iv) Ibid. p. 140.
(v) Ibid. p. 143.
(vi) Jim Yardley, Water, ‘Water, once plentiful in China's Ningxia region, becomes a scarce resource’, International Herald Tribune, 20 November 2006, available at
(vii) Since the 1970s, sufficient food has been produced to ensure the basic energy requirements of more than 120 per cent of the world’s population: Peter Uvin, ‘Eliminating Hunger after the End of the Cold War: Progress and Constraints’, in T. Marhione (ed.), Scaling Up, Scaling Down: Overcoming Malnutrition in Developing Countries (Amsterdam: Gordon and Breach, 1999), p. 3-4. Amartya Sen and others have pointed out that almost all modern famines have occurred in countries producing sufficient food for their own population.
(viii) UNDP (n. 3 above), p. 140.
(ix) World Water Development Report, (2003), p. 10.
(x) See Presentation by Gora Mboup, UN-Habitat, Existing Indicators in the Water and Sanitation Sector: Indicators for Accessibility, Affordability and Non-Discrimination discussed in Virginia Roaf, Ashfaq Khalfan and Malcolm Langford, Indicators for the Right to Water: Concept Paper, Heinrich Boell Foundation, Bread for the World and Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, 2005, p. 13.   
(xi) See Listening to the Poor? Housing Rights in Nairobi, Kenya, (Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, 2006).
(xii) See Greek Helsinki Monitor with Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), Minority Rights Group – Greece (MRG-G), the Panhellenic Confederation of Greek Roma (PACONGR) and the Greek Gypsy Union (GGU), Greece:  Continuing Widespread Violation of Roma Housing Rights (Athens: GHM, 2006), section J.
(xiii) Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AHW) and Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), The Health and Welfare of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples 2005, ABS cat. No. 4704.0 (Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2005), p. 150. Available at
(xiv) Center on Economic and Social Rights, Thirsting for Justice: Israeli Violations of the Human Right to Water in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Submission to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1 May 2003. Available at
(xv) Wateraid and Tearfund, Water, New rules, new roles: Does PSP Benefit the Poor? (London: Wateraid, 2003). (“Our research shows that the policy of private sector participation (PSP) does not comprehensively tackle the underlying causes of water utilities’ failure to serve the poor.” (P.6)),
(xvi) World Bank, ‘Project Appraisal Document on a proposed credit in the amount of SDR71million (USD 103 million equivalent) to the Republic of Ghana for an Urbanwater Project’, 1 July, 2004.
(xvii) Environmental organisations such as IUCN have acknowledged that human-centred approaches to water issues yield environmental dividends: “a human right to water would not only mean the expansion of existing human rights and duties in the context of achieving access to water by all, but also an acknowledgment that healthy, functioning river systems and groundwaters are essential for people, plants and animals.” See J. Scanlon, A. Casser and N. Nemes, Water as a Human Right?, IUCN Environmental Policy and Law Paper No. 51, IUCN-World Conservation Union, 2004, p. 33.
(xviii) See for example, Friends of the Earth, Privatization: nature for sale, the impacts of privatizing water and biodiversity, Issue 107, (Amsterdam: Friends of the Earth, 2005), available at
(xix)See Geneva Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, 1949 , articles 20, 26 and 46; and Geneva Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, 1949, articles 89 and 127.
(xx) See Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol 1), 1977, article 54;xx and Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II), 1977, article 14.
(xxi) See Eibe Riedel, ‘International Environmental Law – A Law to Serve the Public Interest?’, in Jost Delbrück (ed.), New Trends in International Lawmaking – International "Legislation" in the Public Interest (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1997), pp. 61 – 98 and Eibe Riedel, ‘Change of Paradigm in International Environmental Law’, Law and State Vol. 57 (1998), pp. 22 – 48.
(xxii) : ‘Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.’
(xxiii) In resolution 45/94, the General Assembly recognised ‘that all individuals are entitled to live in an environment adequate for their health and well-being.’ This position was reaffirmed by Judge Weeramentary in the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros case who declared that protection of the environment is a ‘sine qua non for numerous human rights’. Case Concerning the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros Project (Slovakia-Hungary0, 37 ILM 162, available at
(xxiv) RAMSAR Convention.
(xxv) Climate Change Framework Convention and Kyoto Protocol.
(xxvi) United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa (1994), Articles 2 and 10.
(xxvii) Convention on Biological Diversity (1992). See Article 10 in particular.
(xxviii) Article 24(2)(c). It is arguable that the earlier International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognises a right to environmental health in article 12(2)(b).
(xxix) Article 5.
(xxx) See generally Martin Lau in Boyle and Anderson (ed.) Human Rights Approaches to Environmental Protection (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1996) and Iain Byrne and Sara Hossain, ‘South Asia’, in Malcolm Langford, Social Rights Jurisprudence: Emerging Trends in International and Comparative Law (New York: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2007).
(xxxi) See for example, Constitutional Court of Hungary, Decision No. 28/1994.
(xxxii)  SERAC & CESR v Nigeria, African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, Decision 155/96.
(xxxiii) Dublin Statement on Water and Sustainable Development, International Conference on Water and the Environment: Development Issues for the 21st Century, UN Doc. A/CONF.151/PC/112 (1992).
(xxxiv) Agenda 21, Report of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development 1992.
(xxxv) Principle No.2, Programme of Action of The United Nations International Conference On Population & Development.
(xxxvi) See Ministerial Declaration of the Third World Water Forum, Kyoto, 23 March 2003; Ministerial Declaration of The Hague on Water Security in the 21st Century, The Hague, The Netherlands, 22 March, 2000; Final Declaration, International Conference on Water and Sustainable Development, Paris, 21 March 1998’.
(xxxvii) Recommendation 14 (2001), para 5. The Ministers went on to provide specific recommendations, for example on affordability and prevention of arbitrary disconnections (“‘Social measures should be put in place to prevent the supply of water to destitute persons from being cut off.’ Paragraph 19 sets out a user pays system subject to the right to water: ‘Without prejudice to the right to water to meet basic needs, the supply of water shall be subject to payment in order to cover financial costs associated with the production and utilisation of water resources.’”).
(xxxviii) Article 14(2)(h).
(xxxix) For an overview of national legal practice, see Malcolm Langford, ‘The Right to Water in National Law: A Review’, in Eibe Riedel and Peter Rothen (ed.) The Human Right to Water (Berlin: Berliner WissenschaftsVerlag, 2006), pp. 115-126; and M. Langford, A. Khalfan, C. Fairstein and H. Jones, Legal Resources for the Right to Water: International and National Standards (Geneva: COHRE, 2004), available at
(xl) The Minister for Water Affairs and Forestry in his 2003 budget speech acknowledged that the monthly rate of disconnections in the three largest municipalities was 17 800 households. While the Minister argues that many of the disconnections were only for short periods and the method for extrapolating the figures nation-wide has been the subject of fierce debate, the number of disconnections is undoubtedly significant.
(xli) Residents of Bon Vista Mansions v SMLC  2001 (High Court) App No.12312 (South Africa). A pending case is challenging the system of pre-paid meters on the basis of the right to water.
(xlii) Article 249 provides that: The State shall be responsible for the provision of public utilities of potable water and irrigation … The State may provide those services directly or by means of delegation to mixed public-private companies or private companies, through concession, association, capitalisation, or other contractual forms. The contractual conditions may not be unilaterally modified … The State shall guarantee that public utilities supplied under its control and regulation, respond to the principles of efficiency, responsibility, universality, accessibility, continuity and quality; and will ensure that their tariffs are equitable.”
(xliii) Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment 15, The right to water (Twenty-ninth session, 2002), U.N. Doc. E/C.12/2002/11 (2003).
(xliv) See Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment 4, The right to adequate housing, (Sixth session, 1991), U.N. Doc. E/1992/23, annex III at 114 (1991); Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment 13, The right to education (Twenty-first session, 1999), U.N. Doc. E/C.12/1999/10 (1999); Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment 14, The right to the highest attainable standard of health (Twenty-second session, 2000), U.N. Doc. E/C.12/2000/4 (2000).
(xlv) General Comment 15, The right to water (n. 42 above), para. 2.
(xlvi) See Stephen Tully, ‘A Human Right to Access Water? A Critique of General Comment No. 15’, Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights, Vol. 23, No. 1 (2005), pp. 35-63 and Michael Dennis and David Stewart, ‘Justiciability of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights: Should There be an International Complaints Mechanism to Adjudicate the Rights to Food, Water, Housing, and Health?’, American Journal of International Law Vol. 98 (2004) pp. 462-515. There is also the rather bewildering publication by IUCN authors, which is commonly cited by General Comment opponents for its conclusion that the right to water is not part of international law despite its voluminous quoting of the General Comment and lack of any critique of it. It is not clear whether the authors are referring to customary or treaty law, though presumably they must mean the former. See J. Scanlon, A. Casser and N. Nemes, Water as a Human Right?, IUCN Environmental Policy and Law Paper No. 51, IUCN-World Conservation Union, 2004. 
(xlvii) See Stephen McCaffrey, ‘A Human Right to Water: Domestic and International Implications’, Georgetown International Environmental Law Review, Vol V. No. 1 (1992), pp. 1-24; Peter Gleick, ‘The Human Right to Water’, Water Policy Vol. 1 No. 5 (1999), pp.487-503; Henri Smets, ‘Le Droit de chacun a l’eau’, Revue europeene de droit de l’environnement, No.2, 2002, pp.123-170; Margret Vidar and M. Mekouar, ‘Water, Health and Human Rights’ (Geneva: WHO, 2001); Salman Salman and Siobhan McInerney-Lankford, The Human Right to Water: Legal and Policy Dimensions (Washington DC: World Bank, 2004); Stephen McCaffrey, ‘The Human Right to Water’. in Edith Brown Weiss, Laurence Boisson De Charzounes, Nathalie Bernasconi-Osterwalder (eds.), Fresh Water and International Economic Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); Thorsten Kiefer and Catherine Brolmann, ‘Beyond State Sovereignty: The Human Right to Water’, Non-State Actors and International Law, Vol. 5 (2005), pp. 183–208; Amanda Cahill, ‘The Human Right to Water - A Right of Unique Status: The Legal Status and Normative Content of the Right to Water’, International Journal of Human Rights, Vol. 9, No. 3 (2005), pp. 389-410; and ‘The UN Concept of the Right to Water: New Paradigm for Old Problems?’ International Journal of Water Resources Development, Vol. 21, No. 2, June (2005) pp. 273-282; Eibe Riedel and Peter Rothen (ed.) The Human Right to Water (Berlin: Berliner WissenschaftsVerlag, 2006).
(xlviii) See Malcolm Langford, ‘Ambition that overleaps itself? A Response to Stephen Tully’s ‘Critique’ of the General Comment on the Right to Water’, Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights, Vol. 26, No. 3 (2006), pp. 433-459; Stephen Tully, ‘Flighty Purposes and Deeds: a Rejoinder to Malcolm Langford’, Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights, Vol. 26, No. 3 (2006), p. 461-472; Malcolm Langford, ‘Expectation of Plenty: response to Stephen Tully’, Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights, Vol. 26, No. 3 (2006), p. 473-479
(xlix) European Parliament, Resolution on water management in developing countries and priorities for EU development cooperation, 4 September 2003.
(l) The latter resolution was remarkably co-sponsored in 2005 by no less than 66 states. The United States, however, with Australia and Saudi Arabia, abstained. In its explanation on its voting a representative of the United States, which has not ratified the Covenant, stated: ‘With respect to General Comment 15 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the United States notes that it does not share the view of the Covenant expressed in that document.’ Explanation of Vote, Statement Delivered by Joel Daniels, U.S. Delegation to the 61st Commission on Human Rights, 15 April 2005 (on file with author).
(li) Adverse effects of the illicit movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes on the enjoyment of human rights, Commission on Human Rights resolution 2004/17, /CN.4/RES/2004/17. The resolution passed in 2005 carried similar language: Commission on Human Rights Resolution 2005/15, E/CN.4/RES/2005/15.
(lii) See for example, Peter Gleick, ‘Basic water requirements for human activities: meeting basic needs’, Water International, Vol.  21 ( 1996), pp. 83-92.
(liii) General Comment 15, The right to water (n. 42 above), para.7.
(liv) Ibid. para. 12. For a comprehensive analysis of rights-based implementation for each of these five elements, see COHRE, WHO and AAAS, Right to Water Manual (Geneva: forthcoming).
(lv) The Committee refers extensively to the duty of government to confront the obstacles faced by an extensive range of groups in accessing water, including women, people with disabilities, children, refugees, prisoners and nomadic communities
(lvi) General Comment 15, The right to water (n. 42 above), para. 56. It concludes its prescriptions on due process by noting that 'Under no circumstances shall an individual be deprived of the minimum essential level of water'.
(lvii)Ibid. paras. 23-24.
(lviii) General Comment 15, The right to water (n. 42 above), para. 51.
(lix) See further, Ashfaq Khalfan, ‘Implementing General Comment No. 15 on the Right to Water in National and International Law and Policy’, Discussion Paper, Bread for the World Germany and Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, March 2005, available at
(lx) See Tully, ‘A Human Right to Access Water?’ (n. 45 above).
(lxi) ‘States parties should adopt comprehensive and integrated strategies and programmes to ensure that there is sufficient and safe water for present and future generations.lxi Such strategies and programmes may include: (a) reducing depletion of water resources through unsustainable extraction, diversion and damming; (b) reducing and eliminating contamination of watersheds and water-related eco-systems by substances such as radiation, harmful chemicals and human excreta; (c) monitoring water reserves; (d) ensuring that proposed developments do not interfere with access to adequate water; (e) assessing the impacts of actions that may impinge upon water availability and natural-ecosystems watersheds, such as climate changes, desertification and increased soil salinity, deforestation and loss of biodiversity;lxi (f) increasing the efficient use of water by end-users; (g) reducing water wastage in its distribution; (h) response mechanisms for emergency situations; (i) and establishing competent institutions and appropriate institutional arrangements to carry out the strategies and programmes.’ General Comment (n. 42 above), para. 28.
(lxii) ‘Ensuring that everyone has access to adequate sanitation is not only fundamental for human dignity and privacy, but is one of the principal mechanisms for protecting the quality of drinking water supplies and resources.lxii In accordance with the rights to health and adequate housing (see General Comments No. 4 (1991) and 14 (2000)) States parties have an obligation to progressively extend safe sanitation services, particularly to rural and deprived urban areas, taking into account the needs of women and children.’ Ibid. para. 29.
(lxiii) Matthew Craven, ‘Some Thoughts on the Emergent Right to Water’, in Eibe Riedel and Peter Rothen (eds.), The Human Right to Water (Berlin: Berliner WissenschaftsVerlag, 2006), pp. 35-46, at 45-46.
(lxiv) “Privatization of water services should be deferred until an effective regulatory system is in place, that is in conformity with the Covenant and this General Comment and that includes independent monitoring, genuine public participation and imposition of penalties for non-compliance.” Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment 15, The right to water, DRAFT (Twenty-ninth session, 2002), E/C.12/2002/11, 29 July 200, para. 18..
(lxv) See ‘Referendum Gives Resounding 'No' to the Privatisation of Water, Inter Press Service News Agency, 1 November 2005, available at
(lxvi) UNDP (n. 3 above), p.  8.
(lxvii) ‘Water, sanitation and poverty: Clean water is a right’, The Economist, 11 November 2006, pp. 67-68.
(lxviii) See R. Picolotti, ‘The Right to Safe Drinking Water as a Human Right’, Housing and ESC Rights Quarterly Vol. 1 No.4 (2005), p.1.
(lxix) See for example, Arrêt n°36/98 du 1 Avril 1998, Commune de Wemmel, Moniteur Belge, 24/4/98, where the Belgian Court of Arbitration recognised the right of everyone to a minimum supply of drinking water utilising article 23 of the Constitution (the right to the protection of a healthy environment); Hussain v Union of India, High Court of Kerala OP 2741/1988 (26 February 1990); Ryan v AG.  [1965] IR 294, at 315 [High Court of Ireland] and south Asian cases discussed in Byrne and Hossain, ‘South Asia’ (n. 30 above).
(lxx) The Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), The Civil Association for Equality and Justice (ACIJ), Consumidores Libres Cooperativa Ltda. de Provisión de Servicios de Acción Comunitaria, Unión de Usuarios y Consumidores, and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) Media release, 28 June 2005. For a detailed review of the case, see Carolina Fairstein, ‘Legal Strategies and the right to Water in Argentina’, in Eibe Riedel and Peter Rothen (ed.) The Human Right to Water (Berlin: Berliner WissenschaftsVerlag, 2006), pp. 93-112.
(lxxi) Code de l’eau de la region Wallone, Livre II du Code de l’environment, decret du 27 mai 2004. In particular.
(lxxii) Ibid. para. 16.
(lxxiii) WaterAid, for example, has frequently acted as an intermediary between communities and local councils so as to arrange for the establishment of water systems: B. Calaguas and V. Roaf, Access to water and sanitation by the urban poor, Paper presented at the Development Studies Association Conference, Manchester, UK, 10 September 2001,  available at:
(lxxiv) ‘Belgium: government recognises water as a human right, more development aid for water’, 20 April 2005, available at
(lxxv) Emily Filmer-Wilson, ‘Human Rights-Based Approach to Development: The Right to Water’ Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights, Vol. 23, No.2 (2005), pp. 213-241.
(lxxvi) Ibid. pp. 232-240.
(lxxvii) See for example, FIAN International and Bread for the World, Right to Water in India, Fact Finding Mission Report, FIAN, Heidleberg, March 2004; Center on Economic and Social Rights, Thirsting for Justice: Israeli Violations of the Human Right to Water in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Submission to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1 May 2003, available at; Karim Assaf, et al., Water as a Human Right: the Understanding of Water in the Arab Countries of the Middle East - a Four Country Analysis, Global Issue Paper, No. 11. Berlin, 2004; Report of the International Fact-Finding Mission on Water Sector Reform in Ghana, 1 August 2003, available at
(lxxviii) See Carolina Fairstein and Ashfaq Khalfan, Community Empowerment and Access to Water in Buenos Aires, available from