Book Brief: The Human Right to Water

WinklerImageThe Human Right to Water: Significance, Legal Status and Implications for Water Allocation
Inga T. Winkler
Hart Publishing (June 2012)
ISBN: 9781849462839
376 pages

By HHR editorial assistant Krista Oehlke

Inga T. Winkler’s new text on the right to water explains the legal status and implications of the right to water and recommends actions that States must take toward operationalizing the right. Winkler’s comprehensive legal scholarship emphasizes that understanding water as a human right is crucially important to the public health sector as well as to changing ecologies. The author posits that a rights-based perspective can play an essential role in safeguarding access to clean, affordable water without discrimination, as well as clarifying the accountability of State actors. She debunks the belief that lack of access to water is due to scarcity, instead framing the global water crisis as a political issue rooted in power, poverty, and inequality.

Winkler evaluates water availability and competing demands from different sectors before moving to an evaluation of the legal foundations of the human right to water, including human rights treaties and customary international law. After an analysis of sectors that use water, Winkler employs a systematic framework with which to inform the basis of setting priorities for allocation. Winkler’s rights-based analysis considers various levels of realization of human rights, including “the survival level, the core level, and the level of full realization of human rights.”

As Winkler puts it, “the right to water has the potential to empower people.” Fundamentally, a human rights perspective pivotally transforms “basic needs” into “legitimate claims.” In the book’s foreword, Catarina de Albuquerque, Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, describes Winkler’s work as a “significant” contribution to the field to further operationalize economic, social, and cultural rights. The Special Rapporteur states that the book is timely as the right to water is “still in the process of finding its place in State’s constitutions and legal frameworks.”