The Human Right to Water: A Research Guide & Annotated Bibliography

30 Pages Posted: 1 Mar 2017 Last revised: 22 Feb 2018

Jootaek Lee

Northeastern University - School of Law

Maraya Best


Date Written: February 27, 2017


All countries, regardless of their size or degree of development, face challenges related to the quality, quantity, and accessibility of their water supplies. Because of the critical importance of water to human health, these challenges require immediate and effective solutions; a lack of water can lead to serious disease and death. Women, children, minority groups, indigenous peoples, refugees, and prisoners are the groups most vulnerable to these health risks.

International organizations, non-governmental organizations, human rights activists, and national governments have identified a wide variety of potential solutions for inadequate, compromised, or inaccessible water supplies. Many of these solutions are intended to address root causes such as poverty; inequality; and political, social, cultural, and environmental challenges. One of the most promising approaches is to recognize access to water as a human right.

Investigating the right-to-water is challenging because of the nature and scope of the topic; the research is complex and interdisciplinary. It involves international and domestic legal research, as well as non-legal research. Furthermore, it ranges over a wide variety of documents (produced by many different types of entities, including inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations and state), a wide range of legal sources (including international treaties, custom, general principles of law, jurisprudence, soft law, and domestic statutes), and many distinct types of research materials (including data, statistics, strategies, and implementation plans). The research is complicated by several factors: the difficulty of defining water and the right to water; the diversity of the stakeholders involved, including indigenous people and minority groups; and the complexity of stakeholder motivations.

This article aims to ease the difficulties of researching the right to water. The article first investigates the various definitions of water and the right to water, and catalogs the challenges involved in researching the right to water. Next the article provides a history of the laws related to water and identifies mechanisms and international principles that may be useful for protecting the rights of indigenous and local people. Finally, the article identifies and reviews a group of books and articles that can provide an excellent starting point for water research.

Keywords: Water, Right to Water, Human Rights, Human Right to Water, International Law, Water Grabbing, Access, Quantity, Quality, Safe Drinking Water, Sanitation, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ICESCR, CESCR, UDHR, ICCPR, WHO, UN, FAO

JEL Classification: K00, K33

Suggested Citation

Lee, Jootaek and Best, Maraya, The Human Right to Water: A Research Guide & Annotated Bibliography (February 27, 2017). Northeastern University School of Law Research Paper No. 289-2017. Available at SSRN: or

Jootaek Lee (Contact Author)

Northeastern University - School of Law ( email )

416 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
United States

Maraya Best

PHRGE ( email )

416 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
United States

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