Issues We Work On

The Human Right to Water

The human right to water is the fundamental right to life, health, and livelihood. The imperatives to meet basic human water needs are more than just moral, they are rooted in justice and law and the responsibilities of individuals and governments.

In September 2010, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a binding resolution affirming the human right to both safe drinking water and sanitation, a milestone on an issue the Pacific Institute has worked on for over a decade. The Institute has been an early and vocal proponent for the human right to water, arguing that access to clean drinking water is a fundamental human right supported by international law, declarations, and state practices, beginning in 1996 with our work on basic human needs for water and continuing with  the release of our report The Human Right to Water. Our work was cited in the UN’s right-to-water document, General Comment 15.

The acknowledgement of a human right to water encourages the international community and individual governments to renew efforts to meet basic human needs for water for their populations and focuses the spotlight on the deplorable state of water management in many parts of the world, from Africa to central California. Our work, for example, has highlighted populations, even in the United States, who still do not have access to affordable, safe drinking water. It also helps focus attention on the need to more widely address international watershed disputes and to resolve conflicts over the use of shared water. Acknowledging this right applies pressure to translate it into specific national and international legal obligations and responsibilities, and helps set specific priorities for water policy – which is too often fragmented, uncoordinated, and focused on providing more water for some people, rather than some water for all people. It makes clear that meeting a basic water requirement for all humans to satisfy this right should take precedence over other water management and investment decisions.

Our work going forward will include development of appropriate tools and mechanisms to achieve progressively the full realization of the human right to water, including appropriate legislation, comprehensive plans and strategies for the water sector, and financial approaches – with full transparency of the planning and implementation process and meaningful participation of the concerned local communities and relevant stakeholders.

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