The right to water: Constitutional perspectives from the global south

Carlos Bernal*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


1. The Constitutionalization and Interpretation of the Right to Water Water is necessary for human life. However, due to poverty and inequality, not all human beings have continuous access to sufficient clean water. According to the 2006 UNDP Human Development Report, in 2006, “1.1 billion people in the developing world [did] not have access to a minimal amount of clean water.” This figure does not include the number of people who cannot afford water and who do not receive a continuous supply. This fact explains why one of the goals set in the United Nations Millennium Declaration was to “halve, by the year 2015, […] the proportion of people who are unable to reach or to afford safe drinking water.” This has become one of the Millennium Development Goals (Target 7c). According to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation, the target was met in 2012. However, according to another report, approximately 768 million people still do not use an improved source of drinking water. Furthermore, UNDP's Human Development Report 2013 highlights that poverty results in insufficient access to water for less privileged segments of society, particularly in rural areas. In capitalist economies, water is an economic good. Continuous access to sufficient clean water depends on the existence of a water market and on the fact that individuals have sufficient purchasing power. Poor and vulnerable people encounter a barrier to access this good. To eliminate this barrier, continuous access to sufficient clean water has become the subject matter of a human right guaranteed under international law, and of a fundamental right explicitly or implicitly protected by several constitutions. The constitutionalization of the right to water has been a remarkable development in the global South. There are only few guarantees of this right in constitutional law of the North. A noteworthy example can be found in the Judgments 9/96 and 36/98, in which the Belgian Constitutional Court acknowledged that Article 23 of the 1994 Belgian Constitution – which states that everyone has the right to lead a life with dignity, with access to health care, and in a healthy environment – includes the right of every individual to have access to drinking water.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInternational Environmental Law and the Global South
EditorsShawkat Alam, Sumudu Atapattu, Carmen G. Gonzalez, Jona Razzaque
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherCambridge University Press (CUP)
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781107295414
ISBN (Print)9781107055698
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015


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