Even though hundreds of millions of people do not have access to clean drinking water and adequate sanitation, these issues only entered the global political agenda around the mid-1970s. The period 1981–90 was declared as the International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade, with the objective that everyone would have access to clean water and sanitation by its end. The Decade did not meet its objective. The issue was then chosen as a Millennium Development Goal, with the objective that by 2015 the number of people not having access to clean water can be reduced by half. By 2002, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the United Nations reinterpreted Articles 11 and 12 of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and concluded that water is a human right under this agreement. Several governments have opposed the concept that new rights can be derived by reinterpreting existing treaties. The paper analyses the developments leading to the recommendation that water is a human right, and then assesses the implications of this new development and its implementation potential in the developing world, especially for the Middle East and North African region. It identifies seven priority areas where research is now needed.
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