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Home > Newsletters Nyéléni in English > Newsletter no 21 - Rights to Natural Resources > Newsletter no 21 - In the Spotlight 2

Newsletter no 21 - In the Spotlight 2

Monday 16 March 2015, by Manu

Initiatives for the respect and defense of water

On July 28, 2010 in an unexpected move , the UN Human Rights Council adopted by consensus the Resolution on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation (UN Resolution 64/292). Co-sponsored by 74 states, this highlights the importance of the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights. Pushed by the global water justice movements and civil society, its adoption was accelerated by the institutionalization of human right to water and sanitation by some Latin American countries in their constitutions, for e.g. Bolivia, Uruguay and El Salvador.

At least 165 States have signed on to various declarations recognising the right to water, including members of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Council of Europe. The creation of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Water and Sanitation was another positive step towards the respect and defense of water. The first Special Rapporteur Catarina de Albuquerque developed various tools for the implementation of this right.
State actors, civil society and communities have also initiated actions to defend, protect and conserve water as a right, a public good and as commons. One example of this is public and community allocation and management of water services to counter commodification and privatization and promote viable, pro-poor and ecologically sustainable options for the world’s populations that lack access to water.

These include Public-Public Partnerships (PuPs), Public-Community Partnerships and Community-Community Partnerships, which are not-for-profit, mutually beneficial partnerships between public sector water operators, local communities, trade unions and other social-economic groups. These democratic partnerships aim “to link up public water operators and different groups on a non-profit basis to strengthen management and technical capacity.” As opposed to public-private partnerships (PPPs), PuPs offer an innovative and practical way of sharing the expertise of public water managers to spread good practices and ideas in water management, such as ensuring water delivery to urban poor communities, respecting workers’ rights, adopting core labour standards and allowing consumers to participate in the determination of water pricing. PuPs also call for providing the social and political support needed for such mutual cooperation.

Another innovative model is the upstream-downstream watershed protection. In the Philippines, civic organisations and public water utilities have allowed local communities to manage and maintain water sources for the cities. The public utilities directly invest in agro-ecological farming practices and in community livelihoods, with the idea that a “good environment will produce good water.” Such models of watershed protection and water service provision are diverse, as they depend on the specific conditions of a particular area. Importantly, these models promote a new vision for water management that re-establish water [1] as commons and make water governance an issue of social and ecological justice and democratization.

Water rights—i.e., how to use, allocate and manage water resources have implications on the realisation of the human right to water and sanitation, and a new vision for water management. Globally, water rights have been used as a political tool in stopping corporate water grabbing, and challenging mining, hydraulic fracking and destructive investments. Citizens’ groups, local governments and affected communities have organised and campaigned to protect their water for drinking, irrigation, agriculture and identity. These include for example: the 2000 Cochabamba Water Wars which expelled Aguas del Turnari (a joint venture involving Bechtel) from Bolivia; Dow Chemical vs Quebec and Lone Pine in Canada, which involves protecting water against pesticides and fracking; El Salvador against Pac Rim and the more recent case of Infinito Gold against Costa Rica; and communities in Plachimada (India) vs. Coca-Cola and Nestle that over-extract and deplete ground water.


[1For more examples, read Buenaventura Dargantes, Mary Ann Manahan, Daniel Moss and V. Suresh: Water, Commons, Water Citizenship and Water Security at http://www.focusweb.org/content/water-commons-water-citizenship-and-water-security or http://www.ourwatercommons.org/water-commons-citizenship-security.