Global Goal Setting and the Human Right to Water

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Abstract

Since the 1970s, global goal setting to increase access to safe drinking water has taken a number of different approaches to whether water should be primarily understood as a “human right” or a “human need.” In the Mar del Plata declaration of 1977, states both recognized a human right to water and committed themselves to achieving universal access by 1990. By the 1990 New Delhi Statement, with universal access still out of reach, the goal was renewed with a new deadline of 2000, but water was described as a human need rather than a human right. This approach was coupled with an emphasis on water’s economic values and the need for increased cost recovery, which in turn increased the focus on, and uptake of, private-sector participation in the delivery of water and sanitation services across the Global South.

A similar needs-based approach was adopted at the start of the new millennium in Target 7 of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but during this decade a consensus on the recognition of the human right to water also emerged in international law. As the normative status and content of this right came to be better articulated and understood, it began to influence the practice of providing water and sanitation services, and by the end of the MDG process a rights-based approach featured more prominently in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of 2015.

While the provision of water and sanitation services is multifaceted, the evidence of global achievements from the 1970s onward indicates that a rights-based approach increases the priority given to the social values of such services and focuses attention on the need to go beyond technical solutions to address the structural issues at the heart of water inequality. Going forward, approaches to the provision of water and sanitation services and the human right to water will need to continue to adapt to new challenges and to changing conceptualizations of water, including the growing recognition that all living things have a right to water and that water itself can have rights.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGlobal public health
Subtitle of host publicationOxford Research Encyclopaedia
EditorsDavid V. McQueen
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherOxford University Press
Pages1-21
Number of pages21
ISBN (Print)9780190632366
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 17 Dec 2020

Publication series

NameOxford Research Encyclopedia of Global Public Health
PublisherOxford Univeristy Press

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