Equitable Access to Water and Human Rights

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edit  ·  Toolkit Human Rights-Based Approach (HRBA) to Water Governance
UNDP Regional HRBA to Water Programme for Europe & CIS

Detailed documentation: Background | Regional aspects | Regional Programme | Methodology
PHASE 1: Checklist (Bosnia and Herzegovina | Georgia | Moldova | Tajikistan | Turkey | Ukraine)
PHASE 2: Country Sector Assessments and Proposed Projects (Bosnia and Herzegovina | Tajikistan | Kosovo | Serbia) | Bibliography

Legal Framework: The Rights to Water and Sanitation in International Law | Regional Law | National Law
WaterWiki-resources:Rights to Water and Sanitation: A Handbook for Activists | UN Human Rights Council Resolution on Water and Sanitation | UN Recognises Access to Clean Water as a Basic Human Right | Human Rights-Based Approach | Applying a HRBA to Water:A Case Study | Water-related Legislation and Conventions | The Right to Water - WHO Publication | A UN Convention on the Right to Water - An Idea Whose Time Has Come | International Conference on the Right to Water and Sanitation in Theory and Practice | Q&A: The Right to Water | General Comment 15 (2002) | Q&A: Water Governance | Water and Health | Equitable Access to Water and Human Rights | European Union Water Framework Directive | Essay: What exactly is “The Right to Water”? | Protocol on Water and Health | Protocol on Water and Health/Q&A | Lessons Learned From Rights-Based Approaches in the Asia-Pacific Region | Human Rights-Based Approach Strategies adopted by UNICEF Laos | Utility Privatisation through the Lens of Human Rights | The Right to Water - From Concept to Implementation | The Human Right to Water:Translating Theory into Practice | Report of the Seminar on Human Rights and MDGs, May 2009
External resources: HRBA and Water Governance Fast Facts - UNDP | Applying a HRBA to Developing Cooperation and Programming (UNDP, 2006) | COHRE Manual on the Right to Water and Sanitation | Protocol on Water and Health - Full Document) | COHRE Monitoring Implementation of the Right to Water: A Framework for Developing Indicators | Sub-commission guidelines for the realisation of the right to drinking water and sanitation (2005) | UNFPA - A HRBA to Programming, Practical Implementation Manual and Training Materials (2010) | Operational Guidelines for Implementing a Rights-Based Approach in Water and Sanitation Programming (CoHRE,2008) | COHRE Monitoring Implementation of the Right to Water: A Framework for Developing Indicators | FAQs on a HRBA to Development Cooperation | The Human Rights-Based Approach to Development - The Right to Water | UN Independent Expert Report on the issue of human rights obligations related to water and sanitation 2009 | UN Independent Expert Report on MDGs and right to water and sanitation 2010
Websites: The Rights to Water and Sanitation Information Portal | UN Independent Expert on Right to Water and Sanitation Webpage

This article is based on the Consolidated Reply to the query (by UNDP EEG, New York) on information related to equitable access to water and human rights. 18 July 2007, prepared by Angelica Shamerina, Bethany Donithorn and Emilie Filmer-Wilson. Cross-posted on EENet and HURITALK.



The paper includes a summary of the development of UNDP’s policy on human rights, and access to water in particular, and provides information on UNDP’s activities and experiences in relation to the right to water and human rights-based approaches, shared in response to this query (see Comparative experiences below). Overall, the paper concludes that practical guidance is still needed on working with water as a right based on international standards, and UNDP will work with Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to develop this.

UNDP’s approach to equitable access to water and Human Rights is based on the 2004 UNDP/HURIST Paper on Integrating Human Rights into Energy and Environment Programming (derived from UNDP’s official policy on human rights, adopted in 1998). It is also informed by the 2005 document, The Human Rights-Based Approach to Development - The Right to Water, (Netherlands Human Rights Quarterly) which describes the ‘Human Rights-Based Approach’ (HRBA) to development as putting human rights at the heart of human development, setting the achievement of human rights obligations as an objective of development aid and integrating human rights principles into the development process. It describes the main benefits of applying an HRBA to water as the following:

  • Emphasises water as a human right: By basing water development programmes on the premise that water is a human right, communities and development organizations are provided with a valuable advocacy tool for bringing the world’s attention to this sphere and holding state authorities to account for their water commitments.
  • Focusing on the process through which programme objectives are achieved: The HRBA emphasizes the processes through which policy goals are determined and realized to achieve fresh water access for all. The assessment, design, implementation and monitoring of programmes and policies must be consistent with human rights standards and principles, such as participation, equality and non-discrimination, accountability and the rule of law.
  • Non-discrimination: In abiding by the principle of non-discrimination and equity, the HRBA requires water programmes to identify the individuals and groups most marginalized and vulnerable in regards to access to water; to address the structural obstacles found in policies, legislations and social practices that prevent these groups from accessing water services; and for enabling these groups to participate in the decision making and policy processes related to water services.

The HRBA thus establishes the obligations of States to ensure that basic water needs are met and empowers communities to claim their right; it identifies and addresses the root causes for lack of access to water; and it places people at the centre of the development process. Translating this complex approach into practice is challenging. Yet taking the extra steps to adopt the HRBA will improve the overall impact and sustainability of development aid. UNDP is working to achieve these objectives on the following fronts.

The 2004 draft Kenyan constitution recognizes the rights to water and sanitation. Further, the country’s new Water Act 2002 specifically highlights important elements of the HRBA, thereby addressing the core principles of human rights by addressing community and stakeholder participation and promoting transparency and accountability. Specifically, to address corruption in the water sector, the new water policy redefines the role of the government to focus on policy, regulatory and enabling functions and leave actual services provision and water resources management to private sector operators and community-based groups such as Water Resources User Associations and other types of local self-help groups for providing local water services. To directly support features of the water sector reforms in Kenya, UNDP is now piloting a programme on Water Sector Reforms and HRBA, which is designed to align the reforms with human rights principles, by supporting improved access to water services through enhanced accountability and transparency of local water services providers. The programme promotes coalition-building between duty-bearers and rights-holders and emphasizes empowerment, transparency, participation and accountability (for more information see Comparative experiences below).

In terms of UNDP development assistance programmes that address improving equitable access to safe water supply and sanitation and could be considered 'best practice', UNDP’s new ‘Water and Human Rights’ initiative was launched in 2006 and includes two pilot projects in Guatemala and Kenya, where an HRBA is being adopted and programmes explored. The initiative, developed by BDP, aims to test the application of a human rights-based approach to access to water and sanitation, water governance and water sector reform, and IWRM. Training of practitioners and programme stakeholders on the status of water as a human right and HRBA is an integral part of these projects.

UNDP has also launched its regional programme A Human Rights-Based Approach (HRBA) to Improve Water Governance in Europe & CIS. Scoping missions in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Tajikistan joint with UNDP GoAL WaSH were carried out in May and June 2009, and the respective Country Sector Assessments are available for your reading (Bosnia and Herzegovina/sector assessment/Tajikistan/sector assessment).

In addition, UNDP is taking steps to apply a HRBA in its community-based action for water supply initiatives through the GEF Small Grants Programme, which supports local communities to protect the global environment. SGP incorporates an HRBA in its programming and provides general guidance on its application (see: GEF-SGP Small Grants Programme HRBA, Feb 2006). Based on the SGP model, UNDP’s Community Water Initiative (CWI) supports poor, marginalized communities to manage their own local water resources and improve their access to water supply and sanitation. With its emphasis on bottom-up, participatory and gender-sensitive approaches it reflects many key human rights principles. In Guatemala in particular, CWI is looking at applying a HRBA to the development and implementation of a community-based project to secure access to water, by systematically applying and making explicit the HRBA principles through the project (assessment, design, implementation, post-project sustainability) and to document the experience, lessons learned and limitations encountered. Training of all project stakeholders on HRBA and the right to water is an integral aspect of the project. The CWI has so far completed projects in Guatemala, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Uganda, and lessons learned will be disseminated at the close of the project in 2008. Further examples of UNDP projects address improving equitable access to safe water supply and sanitation through an implicit HRBA include water supply projects in Crimea and support to community water taps in Nepal (see summaries below).

In relation to human rights and Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), UNDP plans to work with the Global Water Partnership, under the UNDP Global Human Rights Programme to develop a project to explore and raise awareness of the relationship and complementarity between HRBA and integrated water resources management approaches to development and management of water resources. In particular, two principles which provide the foundation for the IWRM process to coordinate development and management of water, land and related resources reflect HRBA principles:

  • Public participation is necessary for effective water resources decision-making
  • Transparency and accountability in water management decision-making are necessary features of sound water resources planning and management.

HDR 2006 - Beyond Scarcity: Power, Poverty and the Global Water Crisis crisis advocates globally that, “access to water for life is a basic human need and a fundamental human right". One of the Report’s main recommendations is to, “make water a human right—and mean it”. It also notes that, "human rights represent a powerful moral claim. They can also act as a source of empowerment and mobilization, creating expectations and enabling poor people to expand their entitlements through legal and political channels – and through claims on the resources of national governments and the international community." The Report provides further recommendations and discussion of concrete steps and strategies to address the constraints on implementing the right to water, accelerate progress on the MDG water target and overcome inequalities in access. In particular, it recommends that every government should, at a minimum, enshrine in their legislation the right of each citizen to 20 litres of water, which is the basic minimum every person needs to live, and that the poor should get their 20 litres for free. UNDP is now looking at how to implement these recommendations in its own work.

Beyond UNDP, in terms of how human rights obligations have been integrated into national legislation (or draft legislation) related to equitable access to safe drinking water and sanitation, in 2007 the Right to Water officially became part of French and UK legislation, while in Uruguay, a successful public referendum in 2004 enacted the human right to water into the constitution. In South Africa water as a human right is already explicitly included in the constitution; Section 27 (1b) of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of South Africa states: ‘Everyone has the right to have access to sufficient food and water’, and water policies to implement this right in South Africa are now being developed (see: World Water Development Report, 2006). This right has been successfully used at the local level, for example, courts have in some cases reversed the disconnections of water supply to poor people unable to pay. Similar concrete successes have also been achieved in India, Argentina and Brazil.

Finally, in terms of how human rights considerations such as the right to water have been reflected in national plans of action, in Europe, the "Protocol on Water and Health" under the UNECE Water Convention, is a pioneering piece of legislation that arguably enshrines the de facto right to water in a multilateral agreement. The protocol obliges the members to establish national plans with targets and dates to ensure full access to Water and Sanitation for all citizens. It includes provisions for international cooperation and support to implement national action plans, in line with the key recommendations of the 2006 HDR.

Comparative Experiences


Programme on Water Sector Reform and HRBA - A collaboration between the Kenya Ministry of Water and Irrigation, UNDP Kenya and UNDP’s Oslo Governance Centre and Water Governance Facility at SIWI, this pilot programme aims to support features of the country’s current water sector reforms and improve water services provision by applying core human rights principles and demonstrating the impact and practical implications of an HRBA in applying anti-corruption methodologies and tools. The programme takes a focused governance approach that involves a human rights-based perspective that promotes coalition-building between duty-bearers and rights-holders and emphasizes empowerment, transparency, participation and accountability. Specifically the programme aims at:

  • Strengthening capacities of local civil society organizations, communities and local water services providers to work with anti-corruption tools in the water sector, and to promote cooperation between them;
  • Increasing citizen awareness and oversight for improved transparency and accountability in decisions affecting the provision of and access to water through negotiation based on data that they collect themselves; and
  • Building the capacity of local service providers to improve local access to water services through providing consumers/communities with improved complaints redress mechanisms, such as through better access to participation and information related to water services.

The expected outputs of implementation of the project include a baseline situational analysis; awareness and education of civil society organizations, the media and government on roles and responsibilities; 3. development and application of tools to support consumer engagement, combined with local service provider capacity building; and lessons and recommendations for policy implications and scaling up of project activities.

Asia & Pacific: UNDP Nepal

Nepal Rural-Urban Partnership Programme (RUPP) Support to Community Water Taps – The experience of RUPP is an example of both the challenges of realizing an HRBA and overcoming traditional practices of caste and gender discrimination, and of promotion of social inclusion around access to water supply contributing to lessening discrimination overall. Deep-seated practices of social exclusion can pose difficult dilemmas for the practitioner – responding to the need for water supply for disadvantaged groups on the one hand, and not perpetuating segregation and unequal access at the tap on the other. The RUPP has been working since 1997 to provide increased livelihood opportunities for the rural and urban poor by assisting micro and small enterprises. To ensure that marginalised members of civil society are involved in the development process, the programme employs an affirmative action strategy with special provision for Dalits and other occupational castes and ethnic groups. Among activities, RUPP supports social mobilization processes and related social development activities, from leadership training and awareness creation, to the provision of minor community improvement infrastructure, including renovation of existing water sources. The Programme works with municipalities and implementation at the local level takes place through Tole Lane Organizations, the smallest municipal administrative level comprising on average 40 households. The experience from Nepal is also an interesting example of work on providing access to marginalized groups to water supply impacting back on UNDP’s own policies and practices. An assessment of the RUPP experience with water supply lead to increased attention to sensitization and training of staff on gender and social inclusion and the recruitment of gender and social inclusion specialist working on awareness raising and ensuring that programmes are sensitive to gender and social inclusion.

Europe & CIS: Crimea

Water Supply Projects for Multi-Ethnic Neighbourhoods in Crimea – This UNDP initiative provides an example of programming based on effective water governance that reflects application of human rights principles even if not explicitly described in these terms. The project is particularly of interest in its successful approach to addressing those issues of financing, affordability, and governance and management of service provision that are frequent obstacles to realization of the HRTW. The Crimea Integration and Development Programme (CIDP) was created to preserve peace among the different returnee ethnic groups on Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, by addressing their development needs, particularly their need for water. A pilot programme in two ethnically-mixed communities resulted in the establishment of very successful water supply systems run by community-based organizations, providing twenty-four hour-a-day access to water and registering almost one hundred percent fee collection rates. Realizing the effectiveness of the models developed and implemented by CIDP, the government has asked UNDP to extend the community-based water supply systems to other districts and to assist in integrating these alternative modes of public service delivery into government practices. Now CIDP is supporting community-based water supply systems in 11 districts, covering almost all the Crimean peninsula. Please see Peace and Security Through Sustainable Social and Economic Development: Lessons from Community Based Approaches in Water Supply Projects for Multi-Ethnic Neighbourhoods in Crimea

UNDP Romania

PPP project in Medgidia municipality – The project represents a true public-private partnership (PPP) on infrastructure rehabilitation under UNDP’s Local Agenda 21 project in Romania and has the following main components: construction and operation of drinking water treatment station; construction and operation of a new wastewater treatment plant; extension of the water supply/sewage service; rehabilitation of the existing piping network. The main goal of the project is to ensure the access of all citizens of Medgidia and of two adjacent villages Valea Dacilor and Remus Opreanu, to water and wastewater services and for decent costs. This should be accomplished in an efficient manner, i.e. with a minimum and good quality water resources. The institutional solution found was a form of a PPP between the Local Council and a private investor for a specific period of time. The project is developed under the Romanian law and is currently in its inception phase. For more information please visit the WaterWiki.

UNDP Tajikistan

Migrants, remittances and water – In Tajikistan most rural inhabitants don't have access to drinking water near their homes. This innovative project, initiated by UNDP and the European Commission's ‘ECHO' Programme, encourages Tajik migrant workers to earmark some of the money they earn abroad for the installation of drinking water facilities for their families back home. This should not only mobilize considerable funds, but also create an incentive for local inhabitants to participate in the construction and maintenance of water facilities. By getting locals to contribute their own money to the water projects, both organizations believe they will create an incentive for local inhabitants to feel invested in the construction and upkeep of clean drinking water facilities. The new project improves upon previous efforts because it emphasizes the active participation of authorities and local communities in identifying and choosing the water systems for rehabilitation. Crucial to the project's success will be resolving ownership over the water facilities. In the past, water was provided for free by the state or collective farm, or in some cases by the local authorities. But now farms have been split up and no one knows who owns the pumps and the pipes. A new water code has been developed that will clarify responsibilities between owners, operators, local authorities, and users. For more information please visit the WaterWiki.

UNDP Armenia

Legal reform and frameworks for IWRM – The Government of Armenia, with support from the World Bank and USAID, has set out to reform the water sector and develop a comprehensive legal and institutional framework for integrated water resource management (IWRM). UNDP contributed to this project by building links with neighbouring countries to address transboundary water problems. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, water management in Armenia suffered considerably. For example, the level of Lake Sevan, a major water body, dropped because excessive amounts of its resources were used to generate hydropower. Institutions and coordination mechanisms were weak, which caused the situation to deteriorate even further. On 4 June 2002 Armenia adopted a new Water Code, which was one of the most important steps in reforming the water sector. It calls for the creation of a national water policy and contains significant provisions on planning and managing the country's water basins. The Code also makes it possible to use economic tools for water resources management and cost recovery. The Water Code enabled the creation of new institutional framework which is being implemented by three agencies. The Ministry of Nature Protection, through its Water Resources Management Agency, is implementing water resources management and protection. The Ministry of Territorial Administration, through its State Committee on Water Economy, is implementing the management of water systems. And the Public Services Regulatory Commission is implementing tariff policy in water relations. Other milestones include the passing of the 2005 law ‘On Fundamental Provisions of the National Water Policy' which represents a prospective development concept for the use and protection of water resources and water systems. In addition, the draft law ‘On the National Water Programme' has been developed, which is currently in the process of adoption. It will guide the development of water basin management plans and the classification of water resources. The law will serve as the basis for IWRM, and will support more efficient management and protection of water resources. Because of these legal and institutional reforms, Armenia is one of the leaders in the region in water resources management. For more information please visit the WaterWiki.

UNDP Uzbekistan

Access to water for rural populations – This joint EU-UNDP project aims to provide water and sanitation services to rural inhabitants in the regions of Karakalpakstan and Namangan. It relies on hashar, a local custom that emphasizes volunteer work for the benefit of the community, which has contributed to the success of the project by reducing costs and fostering a sense of local ownership. Outdated water infrastructure is now being replaced nationwide as part of a special government programme. This 2005-6 EU-UNDP project contributed by identifying local solutions; project workers first met with leaders of each community in Karakalpakstan and Namangan and discussed together the most pressing development issues, using the MDGs as a tool for dialogue. Water has been one of the issues that communities felt confident enough to address in cooperation with local authorities. Local residents decided for themselves what needs to be done to improve their access to quality water. The EU and UNDP have provided funds to solve the problems identified by the communities. So far the project has benefited 18% of the population in the Namangan region and 7% in Karakalpakstan. The project has been a success in many villages. Prior to the project, members of the 3,000-person community of Urtakishlok in the Namangan region had to walk 2 km to the nearest reservoir. Now they have access to clean water close by. The community contributed labour, cement, water taps and meals for workers, saving significant amounts of money. For more information please visit the WaterWiki


ARAB STATES: Egypt, Jordan, West Bank/Gaza

EMPOWERS – a regional partnership of fifteen organizations allied together to improve long-term access to water by local communities. Funded by the EU, other partners include CARE UK. The initiative aims to create a cross-border, multi-level stakeholder partnership and advocate stakeholder-led activities to empower local people in IWRM and development. In terms of human rights, the project has a strong human rights focus and explicitly addresses issues related to the right to water, accountability and participation. In addition, the partners included government agencies and one of the aims is to work “in conformity with national policy” to ensure that approaches developed by the project are “open to being scaled up and institutionalized”. (See also The EMPOWERS Approach to Water Governance: Background and Concepts and The EMPOWERS Approach to Water Governance: Guidelines, Methods and Tools)

AFRICA: South Africa

The country has established the right to water in its constitution as, “Everyone has the right to have access to sufficient food and water”. See the in-depth discussion of the example of South Africa, presented in the global HDR 2006, "Sustaining the Right to Water in South Africa" (Muller, 2006).


In the water law of western USA, access to water is based on the principle of "priority rights". In the Western USA, those persons or entities who first put water to "beneficial use" have priority access during times of shortage. In principle the First Nations, therefore, have priority rights, a property right, to the water that they used. Western water law also terms water resources as a public trust, but the market seems to prevail since rights can be sold and water leased. Earlier Hispanic law required sharing of a public good.

Unfortunately, in most states there are more claims to water rights than there is wet water, particularly in times of drought and climate change, and most rights have not been adjudicated. In addition, most cities have "junior" rights since their use of water is relatively recent. In times of water shortages, cities could legally lose their access to water. To solve this problem New Mexico, is trying to establish shared shortage agreements under which older right owners share their rights with junior right holders usually by leasing.

First Nation water rights have not been respected. Many Navajos must truck water to their homes and villages. New Mexico has negotiated settlement with the Navajos, the Taos and Nambe Pueblos, but the Federal government, which is responsible for Indian affairs, has refused to fund these settlements, leaving a great deal of uncertainty about who has legal access to much of the states water and leaving many Native Americans without easy access to potable water.

Islamic Water Law

It is highly informative to get from Iyad Abumoghli the perspective from the Al Koran regarding water rights. But the fact that there is common sense in the Shariah does not mean there is absence of common sense outside of the Shariah. The Common Law, derived from Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence (extending freedoms from precedent to precedent) also has sensible rules on the rights of upstream and downstream users of water resources.

Ronald Coase, 1991 Nobel Laureate in Economics, author of the 'Coase Theorem', focused on this issue to come to the general conclusion that the economically more lucrative use of resources will eventually win, and therefore, he raised the question whether it would not be more sensible to recognise that and award the right to the economically more productive users of a resource, thereby reducing transaction costs. The initial allocation of property rights matters in the presence of side effects (externalities). The Coase Theoren implies that property rights should initially be assigned to the actors gaining the most utility from them. Such an allocation would be optimal, and even in cases where bargaining would correct the misallocation, economic resources won't have to be spent on transaction costs.

The problem in real life, of course, is that governments often do not know ex ante the most valued use of a resource. It is also the case that all the major faiths in the world have some sensible views on natural resources, especially water. And that's not just true of the faiths that count their followers in billions, as does Iyad for the Islamic faithful. And only 1.5 billion at that out of over 6 billion human beings who inhabit our planet. The indigenous people of the United States are but a handful. The Chief Seattle to the Government of the United States, is previously reported as having said:

"The shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water, but the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you our land, you must remember that it is sacred. Each glossy reflection in the clear waters of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people. The water's murmur is the voice of my father's father. The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst. They carry our canoes and feed our children. So you must give the rivers the kindness that you would give any brother."

What we need to focus on is a universal right to water – and not claim that because there are over one billion adherents to a particular faith we should consider that fact as material for the basis of constitutions of states. India, with the second largest congregation of the Islamic faithful does not have the Shariah, and neither does Indonesia, the largest collection of pious Muslims in the world (excepting, recently, the province of Aceh).

Both India and Indonesia, and all countries, need to have policies to ensure equitable access to water as a human right, and to do this they need not enact the Laws of the Mansusmiriti or the Shariah into their constitutions.

Shared project documentation

UNDP Nepal - “Washing Away Discrimination: A study of UNDP’s support to community water taps in Nepal”, Heather Bryant and Dharma Swarnakarm Monitoring and Evaluation Unit, UNDP Nepal, May 2006 – In April 2006, at a meeting on mainstreaming minority rights considerations into programming at the field level organized by OHCHR, a representative from the Dalit community in Nepal alleged that a UNDP-supported programme, the Rural-Urban Partnership Programme (RUPP), was funding the construction of caste-segregated water taps and wells in the district of Doti. A two-member UDNP team travelled to Doti district in May 2006 to assess the situation. The mission found that UNDP/RUPP funded the renovation of existing water sources in the Dipayal Silagadhi Municipality, Doti. All of the sources renovated through UNDP/RUPP funds are accessible to both Dalits and non-dalits, and in at least one case, RUPP’s support had significantly contributed to reducing discrimination at the water tap. However, the mission noted that caste discrimination and untouchability are still practiced in the Municipality and that access to water remains an issue, and recommended that UNDP/RUPP continue to strengthen its focus on social exclusion issues.

Recommended Contacts

  • Heather Bryant, UNDP Nepal,heather.bryant@undp.org
  • Julia Kercher, UNDP BDP-New York,julia.kercher@undp.org
  • Christopher Gakahu, David Maina and Brian Harding, UNDP Kenya, christopher.gakahu@undp.org
  • Lenni Montiel, UNDP BDP, New York,lenni.montiel@undp.org
  • Håkan Tropp, UNDP Water Governance Facility at SIWI,hakan.tropp@siwi.org
  • Jürg Staudenmann, UNDP Bratislava Regional Centre, juerg.staudenmann@undp.org
  • Iyad Abumoghli, UNDP AS-SURF, Beirut, iyad.abumoghli@undp.org
  • Paul E. Paryski, United States
  • R. Sudarshan, UNDP Regional Centre in Bangkok, sudarshan@undp.org


See also

Human Rights-Based Approach

A Human Rights-Based Approach (HRBA) to Improve Water Governance in Europe & CIS

External Resources

  • Human Rights and Water, Susanne Schmidt, Jun 2007 – UNDP Information Note in contribution to OHCHR Study on Human Rights and Access to Water, June 2007

  • Water Governance Challenges, Hakan Tropp, World Water Development Report, 2006 – This chapter, an extract from the report, discusses water as a human right, and contains examples of some recent legislative developments as well as some recent court cases.

  • GEF-SGPGEF Small Grants Programme HRBA, Feb 2006 - Excerpt on the human rights-based approach, from the GEF Small Grants Programme (SGP), “The SGP Country Programme Strategy, Guidance to National Coordinators and National Steering Committees in formulating the CPS”, February 2006.

  • Integrating Human Rights with Sustainable Human Development – UNDP’s official policy on human rights, adopted in 1998. Drawing on the relationship between human rights and the sustainable human development paradigm, this policy document outlines three areas for UNDP action: (1) providing support for governance institutions, with an emphasis on building the human rights capacity of these institutions; (2) developing a human rights approach to sustainable human development; (3) contributing to the human rights policy dialogue and UN conference follow-up.

  • UNDP Reference Note: Integrating Human Rights into Energy and Environment Programmes, Emilie Filmer-Wilson, 2004 –/HURIST/EEG reference paper by, provides guidance to practitioners on how to link environment and human rights issues in environment and energy development programming, based on UNDP’s official policy, above.

  • The Human Rights-Based Approach to Development - The Right to Water, Emilie Filmer-Wilson, 2005 – First published in the Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights, Vol. 23/2, 213-241, this paper lays out the concept and practical implications – both the value-added and the limitations – of applying a Human Rights-Based Approach (HRBA) to water policies and programmes.

  • Water as a Human Right?, IUCN Environmental Policy and Law Paper No. 51, 2004 – This UNDP-supported paper sets out the competing arguments and the challenges to formally acknowledging water as a human right. Advantages of this approach include the potential to encourage the international community and governments to enhance their efforts to satisfy basic human needs and to meet the MDGs. However, challenges include: ‘What would be the benefits and content of such a right? What mechanisms would be required for its effective implementation? Should the duty be placed on governments alone, or should the responsibility also be borne by private actors?


  • RESOURCE GUIDE: Gender in Water Management – UNDP and the Gender and Water Alliance, 2006 – A reference document to assist water and gender practitioners and professionals, as well as persons responsible for gender mainstreaming, available in five languages: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic. Contains information on the concepts and backgrounds of Gender and Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) approaches, case studies and a glossary of key issues in Gender and IWRM; a guide to resources on Gender and the Water Sectors; a generic project cycle that can be adapted to suit local contexts and demonstrates the gender aspects that need to be considered at each phase; and outlines the processes for gender mainstreaming water sector policies and institutions.
  • The Right to Water – This website, launched on Human Rights Day 2003, and established by WaterAid and Rights and Humanity, in cooperation with FAN, represents a good source of information on “Legislation on the Right to Water”, including outlining some of the existing legal provisions supporting the right to water that are found in international, regional and national instruments.

  • COHRE – This section on the Centre for Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE)’s website focuses on the right to water, and provides examples of court cases from around the world on the right to water.

  • Protocol on Water and Health - provides UNDP-relevant background and information about the Protocol, discuss partnership opportunities and provide programming support to practitioners. The Protocol (under the UNECE Water Convention) is an innovative piece of legislation, taking forward the issue around ensuring access to safe water and adequate sanitation; it has even been interpreted as a way of implementing and putting into action the Human Right to Water.


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