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  • The Human Right to Water: Significance, Legal Status and Implications for Water Allocation by Inga T. Winkler
  • Dan Furukawa Marques, Ph. D. candidate (bio)
Inga T. Winkler , The Human Right to Water: Significance, Legal Status and Implications for Water Allocation (Hart Publishing 2012), 286 pages, ISBN No. 978 1 8494 6283 9.

Inga Winkler succeeds in presenting a comprehensive legal scholarship with normative implications on a fundamental issue of human rights: the human right to water. Her thoroughly documented legal [End Page 785] analysis of the implications for states and individuals meticulously describes the procedural and cross-sectoral legal aspects of the specific question of allocation of water, "particularly in those situations where water resources are scarce or contested."1 In order to better circumscribe her object of study, Winkler chose the "human dimension of the right to water—in particular the neglect of basic human needs in the allocation of water resources—[in] seeking to address th[e] issue from a human rights perspective."2

Winkler states upfront that her book also aims at examining inequality issues related to water and the power relations they imply. Unfortunately, this analysis remains rather shallow in political terms, merely stating the obvious: that political struggles are crucial in putting pressure on states to guarantee the human right to water. Nevertheless, the book is a solid legal tool to gain a comprehensive sense of what the allocation of water implies in juridical terms.

While 1 billion people are deprived of water worldwide, Winkler points out that the problem is not scarcity of water, but rather inequality of access to it, which is a political problem. In this regard, she gives eloquent examples, such as the fact that a vast amount of people in developing countries living in urban areas depend on private vendors for water, which is considerably more expensive than the water supplied through the public network and accessible to rich people—sometimes up to 100 times more expensive.3 Winkler reminds us that four thousand children die everyday from water-borne diseases, such as diarrhea, cholera, and typhoid, and that more people die of water-related diseases than in wars.4 To remedy the problem, she suggests a common sense solution with complex legal implications: "To meet basic human needs requires setting priorities in the allocation of water for that purpose."5 Importantly, these priorities have to be set not in terms of implementation, but in substantive terms. Her theoretical and empirical perspective is the human rights based approach. The general benefits and the political side of this approach are presented as follows:

[The human right to water] guarantees access to safe and affordable water in sufficient quantities without discrimination, and it obliges States to act upon the lack of access. The human right to water has the potential to empower people. It transforms the basic need for water into a rightful claim and gives rise to corresponding obligations on the State. As such, individuals can hold the State to account to live up to its human rights obligations. The fact that human rights are legally binding lends legitimacy and authority to such claims.6

Although some progress has been made in terms of recognizing water as a human right, major legal challenges remain, such as "whether it is legally binding and has a basis in international human rights law."7 Thus, the book also seeks to evaluate "the potential legal foundations of the human right to water, including human rights treatises and customary international law."8 [End Page 786]

To address these issues, Winkler first provides some "background on water availability and competing demands from different sectors."9 She then analyzes the "legal foundations" and "legal nature" of the right to water, as well as "the State's obligations arising from the right and its normative content."10 The book continues by assessing the "implications of water allocation, balancing personal and domestic uses guaranteed by the human right to water with other water uses that link to other human rights."11 She concludes with a defense of the human rights based approach in understanding water.

Chapter two provides a background on water availability and competing demands. Winkler reminds...


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pp. 785-791
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