Observations on the Intersections of Human Rights and Local Practice: A Livelihood Perspective on Water

By Derman, Bill; Hellum, Anne | Law, Social Justice and Global Development Journal, Annual 2008 | Go to article overview

Observations on the Intersections of Human Rights and Local Practice: A Livelihood Perspective on Water


Derman, Bill, Hellum, Anne, Law, Social Justice and Global Development Journal


Abstract

The "right to water" has been adopted as a human right in General Comment 15 by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. A critical issue in international, national and local water management is how to balance the concerns of the environment and the poor against the quest for a more effective and productive use of land and water. The 'right to water' provides a framework for water policy quite different from the Dublin Principles. In the African context the Dublin Principles have emphasized water as an economic good which has led to the adoption of the user pay principle. In the following we explore if and how local water management practice incorporates water within a broader right to livelihood. Field research findings in Zimbabwe support the existence of a right to water forming part of a broader right to livelihood. This has significant implications for incorporating local norms and practices into water policies and management practices.

Keywords

Right to water; Land Reform; Water Reform; Water Management; Rural Livelihoods; Zimbabwe.

1. Introduction

The right to water has been adopted as a human right in General Comment 15 by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. A critical issue in international, national and local water management is how to balance the concerns of the environment and the poor against the quest for a more effective and productive use of land and water. The 'right to water' provides a new framework for water policy quite different from the Dublin Principles. (1) In the African context the Dublin Principles have emphasized water as an economic good which has required getting the 'right price' for water we explore if and how local water management practice incorporates water within a broader right to livelihood. Field research findings in Zimbabwe support the existence of a right to water forming part of a broader right to livelihood. They suggest the basis for incorporating customary norms and practices into water policies and management practices.

Water forms part of a broad right to life that underlies rural livelihoods in Zimbabwe. It is expressed in the Romwe Catchment in southern Zimbabwe as water is life (hupenyu) (Nemarundwe 2003). It is expressed in Shamva District as drinking water should be for everyone (Matondi 2001) and in Mhondoro Communal area as one can't deny water to anyone (Derman and Hellum 2002). The newly enunciated human right to water accords well with the practices and norms within most, if not all, of Zimbabwe's communal and resettlement areas. The idea expressed in Zimbabwe that to deny water is to deny life indicates the profounder truth that there can be no human life without water. The United Nations has determined that the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) includes a right to water. The previous global consensus around the Dublin principles seems to be receding in face of a growing movement toward recognizing a human right to water combined with the Millennium Development Goal directed toward doubling the number of people with clean drinking water.

Water reform involves changing how a nations waters are managed and understood. Zimbabwe's water reforms were conducted principally with the four Dublin principles in mind rather than the human rights frameworks also available. We have found that a common feature of local norms and practices described in rural Zimbabwean studies parallels international human rights laws in the emphasis upon right to resources vital for livelihoods (particularly food and water) We have been surprised at the strength of normative frameworks despite a literature which emphasizes contestation and overlapping spheres of authority. In turn, this has led us to examine if and how these normative local frameworks are consonant with some principles of the right to livelihood and right to water now embodied in a range of international instruments. …

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