Posted by: r.m. | March 19, 2009

water: a need or a right?

With fresh water resources becoming scarcer worldwide due to population growth and climate change, a growing movement is working to make access to clean water a basic universal human right.

But it’s a contentious issue, experts say. Especially difficult is how to safely mesh public-sector interests with public ownership of resources – and determine the legal and economic ramifications of enshrining the right to water by law.

“This is not a semantic issue. If we can determine that water is a right, it gives citizens a tool they can use against their governments,” says Maude Barlow, a senior adviser on water issues to the president of the UN General Assembly.

“If you believe it is a human right, then you believe that you can’t refuse to give it to someone because they can’t afford it,” she says.

In South Africa, for example, the 1996 Constitution guarantees access to “sufficient clean water” as a basic right, which has allowed individuals to take legal action when their water has been cut off.

A landmark 2006 ruling determined that inability to pay is not a good enough reason to cut someone’s water off. The South African courts have also determined that every household must be provided with a minimum of 6,000 liters (1,585 gallons) of water per month, even if they can’t afford it.

La Via Campensina expands on this critical point:

The United Nations and the World Bank consider water to be a need rather than a right. This is a crucial difference. The moment water is defined as a “need” rather than a “right”, it becomes possible to commodify it and make it subject to trade. A second aspect of global water politics is that demand management is proposed rather than supply management in the global management of water resources. In other words the privatization of the management of drinking water,domestic water and irrigation water is being opened up for discussion.

As an inseparable component of social life, water can not be left to the property of persons or institutions including capitalist states themselves. It must be recognized that water belongs to the nature that humanity itself is also a part of. Therefore we demand that only those who accept water as a basic condition of the survival of all living organisms determine how and under which circumstances water can be used by peoples, animals and plants, and not those elected bureaucrats and/or owners of private interests who claim water can be used for capital accumulation.



  1. As I stated in the article “selling rivers, lakes, ponds?” water, eventhough it’s an elemental need for any form of life, should be considered as a right. This guaranties that this resource would be sustained since it would not be possessed by any human. In addition to that, the right of all humans to have an access to this resource would be protected. We should note that the definition of water in the international law is crucial, whether a need or a right, since it greatly affects the ability of governments to use water as a political weapon.

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