Food and Water

Measuring the Human Right to Water

The right to water requires that governments ensure water is available, accessible, safe, affordable and acceptable for human consumption. At this point in time, however, there is little consensus on how to measure and verify a country’s compliance with that right.

Measuring the Human Right to Water with an Integrated and Holistic Approach

According to the United Nations, over a billion people lack access to clean drinking water. To encourage countries to confront this critical issue, the UN has enshrined formally a “human right to water” within international law. The right to water requires that governments ensure water is available, accessible, safe, affordable and acceptable for human consumption. At this point in time, however, there is little consensus on how to measure and verify a country’s compliance with that right.

For the moment, structural, process, and outcome indicators are considered to be the primary means of measuring right to water compliance. On a macro-level, structural indicators signify whether a government has created the necessary policy frameworks to ensure the human right to water, process indicators measure the specific actions taken to provide the right to water, and outcome indicators are quantitative measurements regarding the availability of water and sanitation. On a micro-level, however, each level of indicator remains ambiguously defined, which leaves individual countries without a compliance “roadmap” to follow.

This analysis in WIREs Water attempts to clarify the confusion surrounding right to water indicators by 1) explaining the historical context behind the creation of each distinct type of indicator for water access, 2) reviewing the salient literature on human rights compliance, and 3) reflecting critically on the utility of the existing indicator matrix. Ultimately, the evidence suggests that structural, process, and outcome indicators are necessary, but insufficient on their own to determine whether a state has complied with its human right to water obligations. As an alternative, the existing indicators should be integrated and considered holistically, rather than in isolation, in order to better evaluate a government’s practical capacity, or ability, to provide clean water and effective sanitation to its citizens.

 

Kindly contributed by Jennifer Schiff.

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