The Implications of Formulating a Human Right to Water

50 Pages Posted: 26 Mar 2009

See all articles by Erik B. Bluemel

Erik B. Bluemel

University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Date Written: February 15, 2005


This Comment explores the content, legal forms, and implications of recognizing an international human right to water. The concept of water as a human right developed from the recognition that treating the right to water as an economic good may result in an affordability problem for some communities, depriving them of access to water. To counter these effects, a human right to water is being developed. This human right to water, though not fully defined by existing international law or practice, has been protected as necessary to secure other human rights, such as those to health, well being, and life. Given the structure of international law, State obligations depend upon which human right a right to water is found to support or whether such a human right to water is ultimately found to be a separate and independent human right from other recognized human rights.

Whether a human right to water is ultimately established as a right subordinate to other human rights or as an independent human right, recognition of a human right to water will have far-reaching effects. This Comment analyzes legal developments in South Africa, India, and Argentina to illustrate some of the ways in which States have implemented a legal right to water. The Comment then identifies some of the key challenges and development constraints in ensuring a right to safe water within reasonable distance for all persons. These challenges include modifying riparian and prior-appropriation systems of water rights, defining and limiting impacts upon other legal doctrines, and making economic adjustments associated with providing water to meet the "basic needs" of all persons. The Comment concludes that while recognition of a human right to water is necessary, its implementation is fraught with difficulties.

Keywords: water, water rights, human rights, environmental rights, economic rights, cultural rights, international law, environmental law, South Africa, India, Argentina

JEL Classification: K32, K33, N40, N50, 013, Q25, H41

Suggested Citation

Bluemel, Erik B., The Implications of Formulating a Human Right to Water (February 15, 2005). Ecology Law Quarterly, Vol. 31, p. 957, 2004, Available at SSRN:

Erik B. Bluemel (Contact Author)

University of Denver Sturm College of Law ( email )

2255 E. Evans Avenue
Denver, CO 80208
United States
(303) 871-69092 (Phone)

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