Human Rights to Water

January 4, 2005

The concept of human rights to water is not new. The right to water has been recognized in a wide range of international documents, including treaties, declarations and other standards. For example, Article 14, paragraph 2, of the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women stipulates that States parties shall ensure to women the right to “enjoy adequate living conditions, particularly in relation to … water supply.” Article 24, paragraph 2, of the Convention on the Rights of the Child requires State parties to combat disease and malnutrition “through the provision of adequate nutritious foods and clean drinking water.” References to human rights to water can also be found in the Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, of 1949 (see articles 85, 89, 127); Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Civilian Persons in Times of War, 1949 (see articles 54, 55, and Additional Protocol thereto of 1977, articles 5 and 14); Preamble of the Mar del Plata Action Plan of the United Nations Water Conference of 1977; Agenda 21, Report of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Department (article 18.47), and Report of the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development, of Cairo, 1994 (see Principle No. 2).

All these references finally culminated in the unequivocal confirmation of the human rights to water in the report of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (Document E/C. 12/2002/11, 20 January 2003). It is said that:

“With respect to the right to water, State parties have a special obligation to provide those who do not have sufficient means with the necessary water facilities and to prevent any discrimination on internationally prohibited ground in the provision of water and water services” (Paragraph 15).

The Committee then went on to stipulate in Paragraph 16 that:

“Whereas the right to water applies to everyone, States parties should give special attention to those individuals and groups who have traditionally faced difficulties in exercising this right, including women, children, minority groups, indigenous peoples, refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons, migrant workers, prisoners and detainees.”