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The right to water = the trees’ right to water?

Monday, May 10, 2010

I hope our brother blog would have some time to indulge us in this never ending debate about the right to water (IUCN paper here):

The term ‘right to water’ does not only refer to the rights of people but also to the needs of the environment with regard to river basins, lakes, etc. Realistically, a right to water cannot be secured without attention to this broader context. A failure to recognise water as an environmental resource may jeopardise the rights-based approach, which views water primarily as a social resource. (Scanlon et al. 2004: 22)


I have no doubt that there is a duty to protect the environment. But arguing that the right to water extends into the environmental right to water is a bit too much, I think – or perhaps not?

I don’t quite understand the logical flow. Is it like this:

  • Right to Water –> Secure the trees and lakes, etc –> Water for everyone

If yes. Then how ‘bout this:

  • Right to education –> safe the trees –> trees to build schools for everyone

(Which means that everyone on the Easter Island violated the right to education—as well as the right to housing, health and so many other rights). I have no doubt that cutting the trees too much may reduce the long term of availability of water. But cutting trees may also provide immediate housing and livelihood. Sucking out fossil water, the great manmade river project (BBC news story here) for example is definitely not sustainable (and its environmental impacts are not yet known), but they said that it’d be able to quench Libya’s thirst for tens of years.




Qadhafi may actually be providing the short-term needs of the Libyan for water, without any regard to environmental sustainability. Is this not the right to water?

Consider the view of this Equadorian blogger about their water law (H.T. to our neighbor blog). He demands that the law must comprise of 9 points, one of them being the rights of the nature and a deprivatization policy.


From the outset of the right to water debate, we can see a differing view. One perceives it to be ultimately anthropocentric, while the other sees it as inherent with the environment. Integrating the latter’s view into the former might be difficult, as it must pass through some anthropocentrical tests. For example, if you support the latter’s view, you will have to convince Qhadafi that drilling out Libya’s fossil water will jeopardize humanity. If the harm caused by the activity is remote, or ‘insubstantial’ compared to the immediate gains, then you might lose your argument. If the harm is unknown, a defeat is certain.


There are practical implications too. If the right to water is to comprise the latter view, its enforcement may be on the same level with existing environmental principles, which are considered soft laws. However, the point of having it is to provide a powerful advocacy basis for human rights campaigner. Then, there is a fear that interpreting the right of environment to water into the right to water would dilute this power.


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