This chapter identifies global efforts to establish access to potable water as a human right. It argues that privatization of water utilities is fundamentally incompatible with a rights-based model of water use and distribution. It describes some principles and practical considerations that would follow if national governments truly viewed access to water as a right. It also provides a brief history of the social movement to make water a right, highlighting a number of policy successes at the United Nations in particular. Finally, the article emphasizes the importance of local and global grassroots organizing and social movements. It describes such local movements as crucial leaders/voices, highlighting some initiatives and early successes, such as protest in Kerala, India, that successfully shut down a Coca-Cola factory and organizers in Uruguay who successfully lobbied for a constitutional amendment that not only recognized water as a right but bans privatization of water delivery mechanisms.
Why Use this Chapter:
This chapter includes themes relevant to any class that addresses issues of ethics, economics, public policy, social institutions, and social movements. In delineating the specifics of a “right to water” perspective, it includes both theoretical and practical considerations. It also introduces multiple key players in the debate, such as the World Bank, the UN, private companies, states, and social movements. With coaching, students could use these examples to explore how social institutions operate and interact – particularly examining flows of power and the process of policy construction and application. The article could also serve as a starting point for an ethical debate about questions about ownership of natural resources, how to pay for/support public goods, and privatization of water. (Though note: the piece is clearly advocating for one particular position on these topics.) To use the chapter most effectively, instructors may need to pair it with additional background reading, since the article assumes some familiarity with the UN and with a larger debate/discussion about human rights and the environment.