This study by CISED is a review of the rights discourse in the context of water, based on academic and popular literature on rights and civil society initiatives as well as government documents regarding water and related subjects. It engages with the idea of rights (and the right to water) to bring questions of social justice and equity to the forefront.
It provides a bridge between different discourses (economics, legal pluralism, development studies, human rights, natural resource management) and different groups of actors (lawyers and activists dealing with human rights, social scientists dealing with the question of ‘development’), thereby opening up possibilities of synergies between them.
It reviews the different rights-based concepts which are relevant to water: human rights, right to water, water rights, right to development, rights-based approach to development, and entitlements. This helps to clarify the distinctions between these different concepts and to understand what is at stake in each of them – for instance, for the role of the state, as well as for different dimensions of a right to water.
The report clarifies the content of the right to water by unpacking its different dimensions. The different possible dimensions of the right to water include
- the precise nature of the rights/entitlements,
- the unit to which the right should be assigned,
- what kind of needs should be considered within the ambit of the right (drinking, household needs, livelihood requirements),
- the quantity and quality requirements for each of these,
- questions of accessibility and affordability of water,
- the responsibilities of the state and of right-holders,
- ownership of water resources,
- the kind of system put in place for water delivery,
- pricing of water,
- the relation of the right to water to other rights such as right to housing or right to development, and
- the impact of globalization on various aspects of the right to water.
The extent to which legislation and policies at different levels support various elements of the right to water is discussed. It also highlights the kind of civil society initiatives being undertaken in water, including differences in the actors involved, the particular dimensions of water that they deal with, and the strategies they adopt.