Water as a Human Right for the Middle East and North Africa

Water as a Human Right for the Middle East and North Africa

Water as a Human Right for the Middle East and North Africa

Water as a Human Right for the Middle East and North Africa


Access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation is essential for human survival and for maintenance of a decent quality of life. Currently, more than a billion people do not have access to safe drinking water and more than two billion people lack proper sanitation. In 1992, the United Nations proclaimed that water should be considered to be a human right. This position, however, has not been accepted by many developed and developing countries.

This book systematically and comprehensively analyzes the legal development of the concept of water as a human right; implications for the national governments, and international and national organizations for the implementation of this concept; progress made in different Middle East and North African countries to provide every individual access to clean water and sanitation, constraints faced to assure universal access to water-related services and how these constraints can be overcome, and an overall research agenda in areas where more knowledge is necessary.


Throughout history, it has been recognized that water is an essential requirement for the human and ecosystems survival. Without water, life as we know it will simply not be possible. Thus, not surprisingly, the ancient Greek philosopher, Pindar, declared in the 5th century bc that best of all things is water. Nearly two millennia later, Leonardo da Vinci considered water to be 'the driver of nature'. These may be considered by some to be overstatements, but the fact that such eminent personalities of their times made such major pronouncements indicate that water always has been considered to play an important role in human survival and development.

During the second half of the 20th century, human population increased steadily, as did our economic and social activities. These two developments, together with sub-optimal water management practices and processes, meant that many parts of the world started to face physical water scarcities. in addition, it is now being increasingly accepted that the environment is a legitimate user of water. Thus, in those areas where much of the available water has already been allocated, or is about to be allocated, the addition of environmental needs to other existing water needs has further complicated an already complex and difficult situation that will undoubtedly have significant social, political and economic ramifications in the coming years.

The importance of water for satisfying a variety of human and ecosystem needs has been regularly recognized in numerous intergovernmental meetings at very high decisionmaking levels, starting with the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm in 1972.

All these global intergovernmental conferences and their resulting declarations and action plans pointed out the need for water for drinking (humans and livestock), food production, electricity generation, environmental conservation and industrial developments. the importance of access to clean water and sanitation was further emphasized in the Millennium Development Goals and in the Johannesburg Declaration of 2002.

The importance of having access to clean water for domestic uses and sanitation was very specifically highlighted during the un Water Conference, held in Mar del Plata, Argentina, in March 1977. This Conference noted that the access to water is a basic human need, and proposed that the period 1981-90 should be declared to be the International Water Supply and Sanitation Decade so that the people everywhere could have access to safe water within a reasonable timeframe. Even though the Decade missed its goal of achieving universal access to safe water, it is now considered to be a remarkable success.

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