Facts and figures on water as a human right

The right to water is already recognized in several legal or political instruments. It guarantees access to water, without discrimination, in a permanent and sustainable manner – and at a socially and economically acceptable cost. It also addresses the issues of subsidiarity, solidarity, and cooperation.


Increasing recognition is accorded to the right to water, in terms of a human right to a supply of safe water, the role of water rights in helping to deal with local competition for water and in dealing with social, economic and environmental problems.
Recognizing water as a human right can have a significant impact on national water law, policy, advocacy and development programmes. It can also be a way of promoting an enhanced effort by the international community and local governments to improve water resources management and to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on water supply and sanitation.

The United Nations affirmed the right to water on 26 November 2002, noting that such a right is ‘indispensable for leading a life in human dignity’ and ‘a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights’.

Only a few countries have made formal legal commitments to acknowledge a right to water, but even fewer have matched an explicit right to water in their constitutions with actual implementation.

The Constitution of South Africa states: ‘Everyone has the right to have access to sufficient food and water.’ Water policies and measures to implement this right in South Africa are now being developed.

In 2004, a Uruguayan referendum enacted the human right to water into the Constitution when more than 64% of the population voted in favour of the amendment.

Kenya, in its 2004 draft constitution, is now considering the explicit inclusion of the right to water and sanitation in its legislation.

The Constitution of the Republic of Uganda 1995 provides that every Ugandan is entitled to clean and safe water. The National Water Policy and Water Statute also re-iterate that in allocating water for different uses, first priority should be given to the provision of water of adequate quantity and quality to meet domestic needs.

Courts in India, Argentina, Brazil and South Africa have, in some cases, reversed decisions to disconnect water supply to poor people who cannot afford to pay.

So far, the debate on water as a human right has revolved around safe drinking water, but very little on sanitation. Furthermore, basic water needs for direct economic activities, such as agricultural and industrial production, have not been a part of the water as a human right agenda.

Information from:
the 2nd United Nations World Water Development Report, ‘Water, a shared responsibility’

Source: UNESCO Water Portal, August 2006

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