Gleick, P 1999, ‘The Human Right to Water’, Water Policy vol.1, no.5, pp.487-503
Peter Gleick sets out to show that the right to water (and sanitation – although not explicitly stated) is a fundamental human right which has been either intended implicitly or stated explicitly in international human rights declarations. In doing so, Gleik explores the question of what it means to ensure that people have their basic needs for water met and how that this is linked with adequate water management and planning. He also points out that water rights are not always about the lack of water but also the quality of the water.
Gleick explores the argument of whether this right to adequate water and sanitation would be better mandated if it were explicitly enshrined in all declarations. However, he argues that if this were the case, it would place greater pressure on states to ensure adequate access, which would encourage better water management and more discussion on equitable sharing of resources. He also warns that where states were not able to provide for the needs of their populations, it could become incumbent on neighbouring states to do so if they could.
Gleick goes on to point out the difficulties of meeting the water needs of human populations despite efforts by international organisations and suggests that while it is outside the parameters of this paper to set out any specific strategy, proposes that a mix of economic, political and social strategies could address needs – but if not, states must address this. If this issue is not addressed, the human and economic cost would be far reaching and as well increase human suffering and conflict.
Gleick bases his discussion on a review of human rights declarations and accompanying documentation and establishes the credibility of his argument that adequate access to water is a fundamental human right. He does not however reach any definitive conclusion about whether such a right would be better enforced if specifically mandated by human rights declarations and only alludes to the potential problems if it was. The other aspect of his argument that could have been sustained but was only alluded to, is the economic cost of such a high proportion of the world’s population without access to clean water or sanitation. While it is beyond the scope of the paper to suggest how states ensure this right for their populations, the author does conclude that it could probably be managed by a mix of strategies including economic, social and political.
Overall, Gleick is successful in arguing for water as a fundamental right while at the same time demonstrating the complexity of addressing the water needs for populations across the world.