The rights to water and sanitation in national law
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights requires States Parties to formally recognise the rights within their national legislation, to provide laws and regulations to fulfil these essential human rights.
Recognising the right to water and sanitation domestically is intrinsic to fulfilling the right, it entitles individuals to demand it politically, administratively and judicially. As a result of constitutional recognition, development and interpretation of legislation and policies must be in accordance to the right.
Since the publication of General Comment 15, the number of States recognising the human right to water has doubled.
Explicit references: DRC, Ecuador, Kenya, Nicaragua, South Africa, Uganda, Uruguay
Some governments have adopted a participatory process to review its legislation and policies, and improve its legal and policy framework, please see these cases. In other countries grass roots movements have managed to use existing law to legally claim their rights.
To view States positions to the human rights obligations related to equitable access to water and sanitation please view the OHCHR study. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights called for responses to a questionnaire concerning human rights obligations to water and sanitation. Responses from States give a clear outline of what policies they have put in place to meet the obligations.
Below are those countries that have enshrined the right to water within their national constitutions, or have framed the right explicitly or implicitly within national legislation. Click on a country to see the country position and how the legal basis has been used to fight for and claim community and individuals’ rights.
Where possible the original text in the original language is copied.
To view States positions to obligations to the right to water please view the OHCHR questionnaire.
South Africa’s constitution, adopted in 1996, has been praised as the model social rights constitution.
Section 27.1(b) confirms that everyone has the right to access to sufficient food and water.
South Africa’s Water Services Act, Act 108 of 1997, contains Section 3 on Right of access to basic water supply and basic sanitation. It states that: 1) Everyone
has a right of access to basic water supply and basic sanitation. 2) Every water services institution must take reasonable measures to realise these rights.
(3) Every water services authority must, in its water services development plan, provide for measures to realise these rights…
The National Water Act, Act 36, 1998, discusses permissible water use. Section 1 states that a person may (a) take water for reasonable domestic use in that person’s household, directly from any water resource to which that person has lawful access;(b) take water for use on land owned or occupied by that person, for (i) reasonable domestic use; (ii) small gardening not for commercial purposes; and
(iii) the watering of animals (excluding feedlots) which graze on that land within the grazing capacity of that land, from any water resource which is situated on or forms a boundary of that land, if the use is not excessive in relation to the capacity of the water resource and the needs of other users; (c) store and use run‑off water from a roof; (d) in emergency situations, take water from any water resource for human consumption or firefighting.
To see how the right to water has been used within the South African judicial system see the legal cases.
The Constitution of Gambia, 1996, does not explicitly refer to water and sanitation as human rights but in Article 216(4) obligates the State to endeavour to facilitate equal access to clean and safe water, adequate heath and medical services, habitable shelter, sufficient food and security to all persons.
Article 57 of the Mauritania Constitution, 1991, confirms that water is a fundamental right, ensuing government responsibility.
Water Code, Law No. 2005- 030, Article 2, recognises water as a right, subject to the laws and rules in force. The State policy aims to guarantee access to potable water to the populations.
Article 37 states that urban areas must have a collective sanitation system allowing for the rapid and complete evacuation of domestic and industrial wastewaters as well as their treatment, subject to the public health and environmental protection norms and conditions.
Article 2 : L’eau fait partie du patrimoine de la Nation.
L’usage de l’eau constitue un droit reconnu à tous, dans le cadre des lois et règlements en vigueur.
La protection et la mise en valeur des ressources en eau, dans le respect des équilibres naturels, sont d’intérêt général et constituent un impératif national qui implique l’Etat, les collectivités locales, les personnes morales de droit privé et l’ensemble de la population.
La politique de l’Etat vise à garantir l’accès des populations à l’eau potable. Elle privilégie le partenariat entre l’Etat, les collectivités locales et les opérateurs privés, comme cadre de financement et de gestion des infrastructures de production et de distribution d’eau potable.
Article 37 : Les agglomérations disposant d’un schéma directeur d’urbanisme doivent être dotées d’un assainissement collectif permettant d’assurer une évacuation rapide et complète des eaux usées domestiques et industrielles raccordées ainsi que leur traitement, dans des conditions conformes aux exigences de la santé publique et de la protection de l’environnement.
Dans un délai, fixé par arrêté conjoint des ministres chargés de l’eau, des collectivités locales et de la santé publique, à compter de la mise en service du réseau d’assainissement collectif, le raccordement à l’égout de toute habitation ou établissement rejetant des eaux usées est obligatoire.
Toutefois, le raccordement des eaux résiduaires autres que domestiques est soumis à l’approbation préalable du gestionnaire du réseau.
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia, 1994, provides in Article 90 that policies shall, to the extent the country’s resources permit, aim to provide all Ethiopians access to heath and education, clean water, housing, food and social security.
Article 92, states that the government shall endeavour to ensure all Ethiopians live in a clean and healthy environment and that people have the right to full consultation and to the expression of their views in the planning and implementations of environmental policies and projects that affect them directly.
The Constitution of Zambia, 1996, in Article 112 stipulates that the State shall endeavour to provide clean and safe water.
Article 10 of the Water Act, 2002, obligates the government to provide the population in a continuous and sufficient manner with potable water in order to satisfy their needs for domestic uses and for hygeine.
The Constitution of Uganda, 1995, Article XIV (Preamble) – General Social and Economic Objectives: The State shall endeavor to fulfill the fundamental rights of all Ugandans to social justice and economic development and shall, in particular, ensure that… (ii) all Ugandans enjoy rights and opportunities and access to education, health services, clean and safe water, decent shelter, adequate clothing, food, security and pension and retirements benefits.
Article 48 of the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2006, asserts that the State shall guarantee the right to a decent dwelling, access to potable water [unofficial translation].
Article 26, Water Act, states priority of water allocation for human consumption and sanitation.
In 2002 water sector reforms in Kenya culminated in the passing of the Water Act. Although the right to water and sanitation is not explicitly provided in the Water Act, the right to water and sanitation was formally recognised in a number of key policies developed as part of the water sector reforms.
In 2005 a new draft Constitution was proposed to include both the right to water and the right to sanitation. Article 65, ‘Every person has the right to water in adequate quantities and of reasonable quality’ and Article 66, ‘Every person has the right to a reasonable standard of sanitation’.
Water Code, Law No. 98- 029, Article 37, confirms that the public service is responsible for the universal provision of potable water, which is based on the obligation to provide a minimum quantity and a minimum service of potable water.
Un système d’approvisionnement en eau potable et d’assainissement collectif des eaux usées domestiques ou système, est l’ensemble des installations et des infrastructures destinées à fournir de l’eau potable et/ou des services d’assainissement collectif des eaux usées domestiques sur une aire geographique donnée : installations de captage. de prélèvement et de traitment assimilées à la production de l’eau: installations de transport; infrastructures de distribution et de branchement pour l’eau potable: inirastructures de transport tels que les égouts et infrastructures de traitement et d’epuration pour I’assainissement.
Article 8 of the Constitution of Eritrea, 1997, gives responsibility to the State to manage water and for ensuring that the management is balanced and sustainable.
Article 10 of the Water Utilization Act, 1974, as revised 1993, pronounces the right to water for domestic purposes.
Article 3, Water Law No. 05-12, 2005, recognises the right to access to water and sanitation to satisfy the basic needs of the population, respecting equity.
Water Law, Law No. 10-95, 1995, states that the development of water resources must allow for the availability of water in sufficient quantity and quality for the benefit of all users. Article 86 states that in the event of water shortage due to overexploitation or to exceptional events such as droughts, the administration shall… enact temporary local regulations aiming to ensure as a matter of priority the provision of water to the population and to animals.
The Supreme Court has ruled that both water and sanitation are part of the constitutional right to life (Article 21). The Court has stated that ‘the right to access to clean drinking water is fundamental to life and there is a duty on the state under Article 21to provide clean drinking water to its citizens’ A.P. Pollution Control Board II v Prof. M.V. Naidu and Others (Civil Appeal Nos. 368-373 of 1999).
For more information on case law in India click here.
Article 5 of the Water Resources Law, confirms that the State must guarantee individual access and availability of water for everyone residing within the territory of the Republic of Indonesia.
The Constitution of Bangladesh provides provisions to protect people’s rights to basic services and needs.
The National Water Policy, 1999, gives the State the right to allocate water to ensure equitable distribution, efficient development and use, and to address poverty, giving priority to domestic uses.
The National Policy for Safe Water and Sanitation, 1998, aims to facilitate access of all citizens to basic level of services in water supply and sanitation.
Within the overall objectives the following specific goals will be targeted for
achievement in phases in the near future: …
ii. Ensuring the installation of one sanitary latrine in each household in the rural areas and improving public health standard through inculcating the habit of proper use of sanitary latrines.
iii. Making safe drinking water available to each household in the urban areas.
iv. Ensuring sanitary latrine within easy access of every urban household through technology options ranging from pit latrines to water borne sewerage.
The public utility service, Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (DWASA), responsible for provision of water in Dhaka and Narayanganj, according to their rules, only supposed to provide water for those that have legal ownership of their land.
Slum dwellers in Dakar constitute almost 35% of the population of the city, thousands of people had no access to safe water. In the early 1990s a local NGO, Dushtha Shasthya Kendra (DSK), began campaigning and negotiating with the company to gain access to public water and sanitation services, and thus fulfil this basic human right.
DSK initially acted as an intermediary, acting as a guarantor for water payments. In March 2007 official ownership was given to slum dwellers.
The Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Policy, 2001, states that the provision of water supply sanitation, and hygiene education should be considered integral components in all sector projects.
It also gives the government the primary role to ensure all citizens have access to potable water and sanitation facilities.
In 2007, The National Policy on Drinking Water, confirms access to water as an inalienable right of its people.
Of the same year The National Policy on Sanitation explicitly recognises sanitation as a human right.
Article 8 of the Constitution of Philippines states that water belongs to the State, and their disposition, exploitation, development, or utilisation shall be limited to the citizens of the Philippines.
The 1979 Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Article 43, states its economic is based upon the provision of basic necessities for all citizens: housing, food, clothing, hygiene, medical treatment, education, and the necessary facilities for the establishment of a family.
The Water Code, Law No. 482-2, March 2003, states in Article 9, that first priority is the provision of the population with drinking water in the necessary quantity and the guaranteed quality, fair equal access of the population to water. Article 90, stipulates that the surface and underground water resources are allocated drinking and household- economic water supply.
specific country contributions to the OHCHR study on human rights obligations to the equitable access to safe water and sanitation.
The constitution of the Republic of Nicaragua, adopted in 1987 and last amended in 2005, confirms in Article 105 that it is the obligation of the State to promote, facilitate and regulate the provision of the basic public services of energy, communication, water… and the population has an inalienable right to have access to these services.
To see how Civil Society groups have used the Constitution of Nicaragua to fight for the right to water see the legal cases.
Article 106 of the National Constitution of Panama confirms that the State has the primary responsibility to develop the accessibility of drinking water and sanitation for the prevention of communicable diseases.
ARTICULO 106.- En materia de salud, corresponde primordialmente al Estado el desarrollo de las siguientes actividades, integrando las funciones de prevención, curación y rehabilitación:
Combatir las enfermedades transmisibles mediante el saneamiento ambiental, el desarrollo de la disponibilidad de agua potable y adoptar medidas de inmunización, profilaxis y tratamiento, proporcionadas colectivamente o individualmente, a toda la población.
Article 114 gives the State the fundamental duty to ensure a healthy environment, water quality must meet the appropriate standards for the development of human life.
ARTICULO 114.- Es deber fundamental del Estado garantizar que la población viva en un ambiente sano y libre de contaminación, en donde el aire, el agua y los alimentos satisfagan los requerimientos del desarrollo adecuado de la vida humana.
Article 255 maintains that water belonging to the State is not subject to private appropriation, and Article 256 states that exploitation of water must be guided by social welfare and public interest.
ARTICULO 255.- Pertenecen al Estado y son de uso público y, por consiguiente, no pueden ser objeto de apropiación privada.
1. El mar territorial y las aguas lacustres fluviales; las playas y riberas de las mismas y de los ríos navegables y los puertos y esteros. Todos estos bienes son de aprovechamiento libre y común, sujetos a la reglamentación que establezca la Ley.
2. Las tierras y las aguas destinadas a servicios públicos y a toda clase de comunicaciones.
3. Las tierras y las aguas destinadas o que el Estado destine a servicios públicos de irrigación, de producción hidroeléctrica, de desagües y acueductos.
4. El espacio aéreo, la plataforma continental submarina, el lecho y el subsuelo del mar territorial.
5. Los demás bienes que la Ley defina como de uso público.
En todos los casos en que los bienes de propiedad privada se conviertan por disposición legal en bienes de uso público, el dueño de ellos será indemnizado.
ARTICULO 256.- Las concesiones para la explotación del suelo, del subsuelo, de los bosques y para la utilización de agua, de medios de comunicación o transporte y de otras empresas de servicio público, se inspirarán en el bienestar social y el interés público.
The Constitution of the Republic of Uruguay, 1967, last amended in 2004, confirms in Article 47 that access to drinking water and access to sanitation constitute fundamental human rights.
1) c) It states that National Water and Sanitation policies will give priority to the provision of drinking water for the population, d) social grounds must prevail over economic grounds. 2) It states that water integrated in the hydrologic cycle is part of the state’s public domain, and that 3) water and sewerage must be provided exclusively and directly by the state.
This amendment to the Constitution was made due to a public referendum, where over 64% of the population voted in favour of the inclusion of water as a human right.
Costa Rica currently recognises the right in draft legislation.
In 2005 a draft legislation recognising the individual right to sanitation was developed in Honduras.
In a new National Water Law, 2007, the Paraguayan government declares all water in its territory the property of the State, and access to water a fundamental human right.
In 2009 Peru updated their Water Law, defining water as a human right. Under the law water cannot be bought and used as private property.
The National Constitution of Venezuela, 1971, states in Article 127, that it is the fundamental obligation of the State to ensure that the population develops in a pollution free environment, where water is given special protection by law.
Artículo 127. Es una obligación fundamental del Estado, con la activa participación de la sociedad, garantizar que la población se desenvuelva en un ambiente libre de contaminación, en donde el aire, el agua, los suelos, las costas, el clima, la capa de ozono, las especies vivas, sean especialmente protegidos, de conformidad con la ley.
Article 107 of the Constitution of Bolivia, 1967, last amended 2005, confirms that the State controls, regulates and supervises the exploitation of national goods and the provision of public services.
The Bolivian government is in the process of drafting a new Constitution which will include the right to water and sanitation.
The constitution of Columbia, 1991, does not explicitly confirm the individual right to water and sanitation but Article 49 verifies that the State is responsible for public health and environmental sanitation, and that all individuals are guaranteed access to services that promote, protect, and rehabilitate public health
Article 334, provides that the State shall intervene to ensure that all individuals, and particularly those with low income, have effective access to basic goods and services.
Article 366 confirms that general welfare and the improvement of the quality of life of the population are social purposes of the State. The unmet needs regarding environmental sanitation and potable water are fundamental objectives of the State.
And finally Article 368 stipulates that subsidiaries will be granted to so that people with low incomes can afford to pay the rents for the public household services covering their basic needs
The Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador, 1998, Article 23, recognises the right to a quality of life that ensures health, feeding and nutrition, potable water, a clean environment, social education, work, recreation, housing, clothing and other necessary services.
Article 42, confirms that the State shall guarantee the right to health, its promotion and protection through… the provision of potable water and basic sanitation… in accordance with the principles of equity, universality, solidarity, quality and efficiency.
Article 249 gives responsibility of the State to provide public drinking water and irrigation services, the State shall guarantee that public services conform to the principles of efficiency, responsibility, universality, accessibility, continuity and quality, and shall safeguard that their rates or tariffs are equitable.
Art. 23.- Sin perjuicio de los derechos establecidos en esta Constitución y en los instrumentos internacionales vigentes, el Estado reconocerá y garantizará a las personas los siguientes: 20. El derecho a una calidad de vida que asegure la salud, alimentación y nutrición, agua potable, saneamiento ambiental; educación, trabajo, empleo, recreación, vivienda, vestido y otros servicios sociales necesarios.
Art. 42.- El Estado garantizará el derecho a la salud, su promoción y protección, por medio del desarrollo de la seguridad alimentaria, la provisión de agua potable y saneamiento básico, el fomento de ambientes saludables en lo familiar, laboral y comunitario, y la posibilidad de acceso permanente eininterrumpido a servicios de salud, conforme a los principios de equidad, universalidad, solidaridad, calidad y eficiencia.
Art. 249.- Será responsabilidad del Estado la provisión de servicios públicos de agua potable y de riego, saneamiento, fuerza eléctrica, telecomunicaciones, vialidad, facilidades portuarias y otros de naturaleza similar. Podrá prestarlos directamente o por delegación a empresas mixtas o privadas, mediante concesión, asociación, capitalización, traspaso de la propiedad accionaria o cualquier otra forma contractual, de acuerdo con la ley. Las condiciones contractuales acordadas no podrán modificarse unilateralmente por leyes u otras disposiciones. El Estado garantizará que los servicios públicos, prestados bajo su control y regulación, respondan a principios de eficiencia, responsabilidad, universalidad, accesibilidad, continuidad y calidad; y velará para que sus precios o tarifas sean equitativos.
The Constitution of the Dominican Republic, 2002, Article 8 obliges the State to watch over the improvement of alimentation, sanitation services, and hygienic conditions.
Although the Constitution of Guatemala, 1985, does not explicitly confirm the universal right to water and sanitation, in Article 96 it obligates the State to control the quality of alimentary, pharmaceutical, chemical and all other products that can affect the health and well being of its inhabitants. It affirms that the State shall watch over the establishment and planning of primary health care and the improvement of the conditions of basic environmental sanitation of the less protected communities [unofficial translation].
In January 2010 the President proposed a constitutional reform of water rights, to confirm the resource as a public good.
In 1993, Indigenous Law, 19.253, was passed, Article 64 stipulates that new water rights in respect of lakes pools, watersheds, rivers and other aquifers that affect the water resources that are property of the various indigenous communities shall not be issued without previously guaranteeing the normal provision of water to the affected communities.
Brazil’s Law on Basic Sanitation, 11445, January 2007, sets technical standards for the regulation of sanitation services. Article 43 states that service delivery shall comply with minimum quality standards, including regularity and continuity. [Unofficial translation]
In response to the launch of the UN’s Human Development Report, ‘Beyond Scarcity: Power, Poverty and the Global Water Crises’ in 2006, the UK Government formally announced that it recognises the Human Right to Water.
In 2008 the Netherlands formally recognised the right to the Human Rights Council.
The Belgium Constitution, 1994, at Article 23 states that all citizens should be able to live in a dignified manner and have therefore the right to the protection of a safe environment and health.
Judgments of the Belgian Constitutional Court
Ruling 36/98, 1 April 1998- Responsibility over the provision of water is shared between the federal government and the three regions in Belgium. Given this competence, Flanders introduced that all its citizens are entitled to the minimal amount of drinking water (15m³) free of charge. One municipal drinking water company opposed this decision, arguing that this regulation interfered with the competence of the water companies. The Belgian Constitutional Court however, ruled that Flanders has the right to introduce this free amount of drinking water.
The Court reasoned that this regulation meets the right of every individual to have access to drinking water, it promotes rational water consumption and thus reduces water wastage.
France has published a new law on water and the aquatic environment whose first article stipulates that each individual, for his food and his hygiene, has the right to reach drinking water under conditions economically acceptable by all.