Right to Water as a ‘Red Herring’ ?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

An interesting article from Ching Leong at NUS SPP: “Rights and Price: A Pair of Red
Herrings in Water”. She contends:

If water is perceived as a human right, it should be freely available to one and all. But clean water comes at a cost and unless that cost is paid for, it is difficult to ensure universal access.

Before making any comment, have a look at WWC’s FAQ on the right to water here:

10- Does the human right to water mean that water should  be free?
The right to water does not mean that water has to be delivered for free, but it must be affordable, as well as safe, accessible and sufficient.  However, through the acceptance of a right to water, there is explicit recognition that water is a social and cultural good, as well as an economic good. This point was confirmed in CESCR's General Comment 15. Any payment for water services must be based on the principle of equity, ensuring that these services, whether privately or publicly provided, are affordable to all, including socially disadvantaged groups.


Again, before making any comment, have a look at Ms. Leong’s closing statement on her article:

Water in short should be priced as an economic virtue. At the same time, it should be free to those who cannot pay because of a moral imperative that is sometimes captured by the declaration that it is a human right. There is no reason that public policy cannot fulfill both roles because, in this happy instance at least, the imperatives from economics and morality are not in contradiction.

To me, that sounds like a human right after all. A cross subsidy is in place, those who cannot afford should have it for free. So that’s what human right to water is all about. It seems that we’ve agreed on this all along!