The Right to Water: A vast human rights field

Context: Challenges and Issues

From advocacy to recognition, water is today recognized as a universal human right. However, we realize that the process that led to its concecration has been accompanied by limited or no engagement of civil society organizations. The Marrakech Forum is, in this context, an opportunity to unite around this theme, human rights, water, sustainable development, and civil society activists who are campaigning for the development and implementation of this right.

Water is considered a factor of sustainable development, determined by a triad of interaction between ecology, economy and social factors. It is also a right which contributes to the realization of other rights, including the right to life, dignity, health, food, peace, security, and a healthy environment.

The long struggle to make access to water a human right for every individual has been marred with resistance. Nevertheless, in July 2010 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution which protected “ the right to adequate supply, physically accessible and affordable access to safe and acceptable quality of water for personal and domestic uses.”[1]

In June 1993, the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna's highlighted the interdependence of all human rights, urging the international community to treat " human rights globally in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing, and with the same emphasis." (Article 5 of the Declaration of Principles).

Water is indeed a source of inequality. Unevenly distributed in time and space and in relation to its access: Nine "giants" water countries possess almost 60% of renewable natural resources of fresh water in the world (Brazil, Russia, Indonesia China, Canada, United States, Colombia and India); while Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE, Malta, Libya, Singapore, Jordan, Israel and Cyprus have very low resources, or virtually none.

2.4 billion people are without safe drinking water, a third of the world population; 3.6 billion use water that is "not safe" and more than 1.8 billion consume unsafe water, not to mention the daily water cuts.

A global crisis is looming, due to the decline of the water supply, the increase in demands, desertification, climate change and the constant growth in global population (9 billion by 2025). For the first time in the history of mankind, cities are more populated than the countryside. The impact on water needs and the consequences of wastewater discharges are so many on health and the environment.

Water shortages and environmental vulnerability are forcing people to migrate within their countries or abroad. According to a UN report, between 1997 and 2020, some 60 million people will migrate from the desertic areas of sub-Saharan Africa towards Northern Africa and Europe. Trans-Saharan migration to Europe is likely to continue as countries in North Africa will become increasingly regions of destination. International law is still helpless against the phenomenon of environmentally displaced people.

Water and war have become two related topics and the notion of state security includes more and more the idea of ??environmental security. The planet has 263 international river basins covering 45.3% of the land surface (excluding Antarctica) and are inhabited by more than half of the world population. One third of these 263 transboundary river basins are shared by more than two countries. Many countries also share aquifers. The 1977 Geneva Convention Protocols prohibit the use water facilities, drinking supplies and irrigation systems as a method of warfare; this prohibition is unfortunately violated in many cases.

Despite States’ efforts to supply all populations and regions with water, awareness of the global crisis and challenges related to water remain very low. Inaction and / or insufficient resources in this area lead to a deterioration in terms of balance. On the other hand, access to this basic service is a key element for sustainable development, social justice and therefore social peace.

The right to clean water: a beginning of a recognition

Civil society rejects this negative balance in terms of access to water and sanitation. However, we are gradually witnessing the recognition of the rights to water and sanitation by several resolutions, declarations at the international and / or regional levels and by national constitutions. In international human rights law access to water and sanitation are now protected as human rights. Morocco, for example, these rights are enshrined in article 31 of the July 2011 constitution.


These rights allow for the struggle against inequalities in access, through empowerment of states and enhancing social justice, non-discrimination, and the fight against poverty, both within states and at the level of international relations. They provide a legal tool with a "human rights” approach to achieve the 2015Millennium Development Goals, which called on the international community to reduce by 50% the number of people deprived of water and sanitation. But, according to a recent WHO report, the situation remains worrying.

Since the adoption of the abovementioned Resolution of 2010, UN human rights agencies and several new resolutions have incorporated the right to sanitation. Private corporations, users or service providers, are not at the margins of these dynamics. For each corporation, the question is no longer whether it is concerned or not with these issues, but it is how to operate in this new paradigm, which has become a decisive factor not only in competition and development, but also in social corporate responsibility.

The present challenge is to encourage all stakeholders to address the impacts of their decisions and activities on society and the environment, by adopting a transparent and ethical behavior that contribute to sustainable development, in a context where the State is required to develop appropriate rules and ways of supporting or leading by example.

Today, civil society advocacy and debate are articulated around modalities and mechanisms to ensure the effectiveness of these rights.

Objectives of the Meeting:


  • To federate human rights organisations, actors of sustainable development, international conferences, civil society, financial mechanisms, local authorities, academic research and the media;
  • To explain the genesis, resistance, and contexts of rights’ recognition as well as their relevant concepts;
  • To exchange information, including on legal frameworks, constitutionalisation process, best practices and the roles of the international community;
  • To discuss implementation mechanisms, justiciability, financing and solidarity-based finance, effective governance, and relevant links between international, national and local levels;
  • To debate ways to integrate these new rights into sectoral policies and their commun consistency;
  • To promote corporate social responsibility;
  • To raise awareness / capacity building of media, youth, the judicial system;
  • To mobilize partnership, cooperation, solidarity and networking.

Expected Results

  • Produce a report which summarizes the whole debate, including recommendations;
  • Launch a “ Marrakech Appeal” for the effectiveness of the rights to water and sanitation;
  • Capitalize on the outcome of the Forum to increase networking.