THE HUMAN RIGHT TO WATER AND THE HUMAN RIGHTS-BASED APPROACH TO WATER
As the most recent development in the global water sector, the human right to water refers to the right of every man to easily access potable water in sufficient quantities, in line with certain fundamental principles without which the right cannot be said to have been exercised/protected. This is different from the general right to water which connotes the right of a person to use any water to which access is given, for their personal purposes.[ii]
The formal recognition of the human right to water developed from legal deductions made from earlier international human rights instruments such as the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, 1948, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women 1997 etc.[iii] In 2010, the UN General Assembly formally recognised the right to safe and clean drinking water as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights. It further enjoined all states to take all necessary steps for the full actualization of this right.[iv]
The normative principles[v] of the right include:
a. Sufficiency: This means that water for domestic use must be abundantly available and such availability must be continuous[vi];
b. Acceptability: This means water that is odourless, colourless, tasteless, and remains protected from external forces which could alter its purity;
c. Accessibility: Easily accessed by the person needing it. According to WHO, accessibility of water means the availability of sufficient water within 100 meters from a household with the collection time not exceeding 30 minutes;
d. Safe: The source must be safe for consumption and not pose any health risk) and;
e. Affordability: Can be accessed by all persons irrespective of their economic status.
The Human rights-based approach to water access, therefore, discusses the fundamental principles and doctrines by which the human right to water can be said to be protected and realised. These are otherwise known as “The PANEL” principles of the human rights-based approach to water access[vii].
The PANEL represents Participation, Accountability, Non-discrimination, Empowerment, and Legal redress.
- Participation: This principle encourages the involvement of the beneficiaries of water in the decision-making, as well as the implementation of policies relating to the provision of potable water. Such participation may be active (i.e., direct involvement in decision-making), or passive (enhancing their right to know about all water-related issues and expressing their grievances on same)[viii].
- Accountability: The provision of an accountability strategy focuses on the government and officials who are saddled with the responsibility of providing access to water, and are answerable to the citizens on the nature and extent of their functions. Their performances are also assessed in their respective offices. In addition, there should be in place a method by which the citizens can request for information, or make certain claims and a punishment provided when these officials fail to respond to such requests.
- Non-discrimination. This basically resounds the idea that no person should be subjected to any form of discrimination for any reason in the provision of access to water.
- Empowerment: This discusses the viewpoint that the masses, as key stakeholders in the system, should be enabled by the law and the various institutions to make informed choices on the adoption of what procedures and strategies will suit each community in enhancing the protection of the right.
- Legal redress: This principle reverberates the need for the provision of a structure for the redress of any violation which arises in the protection of the human right to water.
[i]See section 2 of the Water Resources Act of Nigeria 2004.
[ii] For a comprehensive analysis of the development of the human right to water, see O.L Niyi-Gafar O.L, op.cit.
[iii] Paragraph 1 and 2, Resolution of the United Nations General Assembly; Sixty-fourth session, Agenda item 48.
[iv] See Scanlon J. et al. (2004) Water as a Human Right? IUCN Environmental Policy and Law Paper No. 51; Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge. ISBN 2-8317-0785-4
[v]OHCHR, 2002, ‘Human Rights, Poverty Reduction and Sustainable Development: Health, Food and Water.