Critical Perspectives on the Human Right to Water: Progressive realization, ongoing inequities, and everyday engagements in South Africa and Ghana

Authors: Leila Harris*, University of British Columbia
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Water Resources and Hydrology, Africa
Keywords: human right to water, ghana, south africa, narratives, lived experience
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 12:40 PM / 2:20 PM
Room: Forum Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The human right to water has been intensely debated in the last several decades, particularly since the formal adoption by the UN General Assembly in 2010. Some highlight the difficulties of implementation, while others have suggested that a rights framework is inappropriate for the many challenges of water quality and access for the world’s poor. Among the limitations of a rights framework, it is suggested, is the western, statecentric and individualistic framing of rights discourse, lending itself to easy cooptation by corporate interests, and working against communtarian or alternative modes of access and entitlements (e.g. Parmar, Bakker). In response to these important critiques, others have suggested that nonetheless the human right to water and sanitation is an important discourse and practice that highlights the needs of the world’s poor and vulnerable, focusing attention on universal access regardless of ability to pay, and offering some important correctives to governance discourses that have been emphasized with neoliberalization.The approach taken here is to investigate the human right to water not as a legal principle, nor as a global policy regime, but as a daily lived reality for millions of people around the world. Drawing on case study research in underserved sites of Accra Ghana and Cape Town South Africa, this paper considers key themes of ongoing inequities and everyday engagements as key to analyzing the HRW, and its uneven implementation. Consideration is given to narratives and meanings of the HRW, including senses of belonging and exclusion.

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