Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: March 2019

Chapter 3 - The Human Right to Water in International Human Rights Law


“Access to safe water is a fundamental human need and, therefore, a basic human right. Contaminated water jeopardizes both the physical and social health of all people. It is an affront to human dignity.”


Chapter 1 gave an introduction into the subject of this book. As explained, the focus of this research is on the realisation of vulnerable groups’ sustainable human right to water. It introduced the topic and some of the bottlenecks regarding the human right to water and sustainability. Chapter 2 argued that the concept of vulnerability within the human rights framework is currently too narrow to facilitate additional support and access to water for those groups who can be identified as specifically vulnerable in relation to water and other environmental human rights. It argued that environmental factors should be taken into account in assessing the vulnerability of individuals and groups, thereby recognising the impact that their situation has on the realisation of their rights.

The recognition of the human right to water provides an opportunity for these groups to have their access to water realised. In order to clarify which rights individuals have in general and vulnerable groups in particular, this chapter discusses what the human right to water entails in international human rights law. This includes its legal foundations and normative content. The existence of the human right to water has been contested, however. With the adoption of General Comment No. 15 by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), however, the right to water and sanitation have been authoritatively formulated in a non-legally binding instrument.

This chapter commences with an overview of how the human right to water has emerged in the international arena and which developments it has experienced. This section illustrates that access to water was initially understood as a collective need, taking into account environmental protection, and it developed into a human right with an individual scope. It has subsequently moved back and forth between the environmental policy field and the human rights field which is a relevant development in relation to sustainable development. This cross-fertilisation and how it relates to aligning the human right to water and sustainability efforts will be further discussed in chapter 5.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO