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Why democratic outcomes have not delivered for the poor: The case of the right to water Dr Lyla Mehta Institute of Development Studies, UK Visiting Professor,

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Presentation on theme: "Why democratic outcomes have not delivered for the poor: The case of the right to water Dr Lyla Mehta Institute of Development Studies, UK Visiting Professor,"— Presentation transcript:

1 Why democratic outcomes have not delivered for the poor: The case of the right to water Dr Lyla Mehta Institute of Development Studies, UK Visiting Professor, Norwegian University of Life Science

2 Outline Politics and contestations of water Unresolved issues around the right to water Unequal citizenship / elite biases of the State Rights talk and rights practice (South Africa; Bolivia) Despite problems, rights still matter

3 Contestations around water Water as a contested resource Water policies – Benthamian logic / utilitarian Aggregate and technocentric notions of scarcity/ crises Recently rights based (e.g. South Africa, Bolivia) Exclusions, conflicts, rights violations Sustainability - beyond supply/ quality Silo-driven discourses – WSS; WRM; sanitation; waste

4 The human right to water The right to water is implicitly mentioned in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human rights and is explicitly mentioned only in the Convention of the Rights of the Child (1989). Recent endorsements : General Comment No ; UN 2010 General Assembly Resolution and UN Human Rights Council Resolution Right to water still controversial on many fronts. ‘Indivisibility’ of rights not recognised in practice. In the water debate, dominant narratives are happier to see water as an economic good rather than as a human right.

5 Why Rights Matter Justiciable and legally binding Markets cannot guarantee the provision of all goods on a fair basis to all citizens Key element of citizenship Counterveiling force against commodification Powerful tool of mobilisation to local struggles and claims

6 Unresolved issues of the human right to water What does legally binding really mean in local, national and international contexts? Individualistic, anthropocentric and state centric Regulatory frameworks v. weak in the case of non state and private actors Not incompatible with ‘private sector provision – ‘neutral as to economic models’ (OHCHR 2010)

7 Unresolved environmental dimensions to RTW Tensions between access/ social justice and environmental quality/ nature RTW as balancing environmental risks and benefits between poor and rich Ecosystem sustainability – environmental flows of water need to be protected by law (e.g ecological reserve )

8 Unequal citizenship Modern state created distinctions between rights bearers and those who are targets of government interventions Distinction between civil/ political society (Chatterjee ) Vast populations need to fend for themselves or opt out of the formal system (e.g. in peri urban areas)

9 Denial of rights Sins of omission: Poor states may not prioritise the imperative to provide basic services for all due to lack of resources or political will Sins of commission: States/ powerful actors knowingly put poor people’s rights at risk State as arbiter of rights and justice

10 Water injustices in peri urban areas

11 History of conflict and rights violations

12 The global land and water grab

13 South Africa : Dancing to two tunes? South Africa was the first country to endorse the constitutional right to water and endorse the rights of nature (reserve) 2001: Free Basic Water Policy Implementation rests with local authorities who interpret it according to the resources and capacity available Since 1997, controversial cut offs and hikes in water tariffs High profile judgements and struggles

14 The case of Bolivia Water Wars of 2000/ 2001 The Right to Water for Life – 2006 Right to mother earth Contradictions (economic policies that violate basic rights and destroy natural resources; lack of awareness and capacity; communitarian notions of rights; mistrust of state)

15 Rights talk/ Rights Practice Inadequate information about rights Fuzziness around responsibilities/ duty bearers How define what is sufficient and what determines the human right to water? Resistance of powerful players – weak commitment to rights – poor state/ citizen relations Elite biases/ indifference to poor

16 Conclusions Lots of unresolved issues around RTW States continue to be very contradictory towards poor and marginalised peoples Despite contradictions in implementation, the fight is worth it! Use rights to hold powerful players to account/ justiciability Rights are realised through struggle – more and more people are demanding their rights to water and sanitation


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