The Human Right to Water


In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly recognized a human right to water and sanitation, acknowledging that everyone, without discrimination, is entitled to adequate, safe, accessible, and affordable water. But what, in practice, does the human right to water entail? How should human rights influence the allocation of water among agriculture, industry, households, and the environment? How should the human right to water influence decisions to delegate service provision to the private sector?

“The Human Right to Water,” a research seminar sponsored by the UC Berkeley Social Science Matrix, is addressing how a human right to water can be effectively implemented, with a goal to translate the principles laid out by the U.N. into concrete and realistic policy mechanisms. Led by Isha Ray, Professor of Energy and Resources in the Energy and Resources Group, and Charisma Acey, Assistant Professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning, this interdisciplinary seminar is drawing upon both local examples (such as California Assembly Bill 685, California's own law recognizing the human right to water, which took effect in January 2013), as well as international examples of countries that have attempted to implement a right to water, including South Africa, Bolivia, Cambodia, Colombia, Nigeria, Panama, and Tunisia.

“The Matrix seminar is helping us to initiate what will be the first systematic, empirical study of the human right to water,” says Ray. “Implementation of this right has only just started, so this is an ideal time to seek to launch an interdisciplinary multi-year effort…. Several UN agencies and a handful of environmental non-government organizations (ENGOs) have published recent case studies of efforts to implement the right to water, but these are mostly descriptive and anecdotal. Ultimately, the research program that would be launched by this seminar could answer fundamental questions yet to be answered about equity, participation, and development resulting from a rights-based approach to water.”