Alternatives

Documents of the UN and WHO imply that a fundamental right to water is equated with what should be an explicit human right to water for all [2,3]. However, while acknowledging water as a fundamental right, other authors have outlined policy and management strategies that they argue would improve access without employing human rights language to do so. The following examples offer alternative interpretations of rights to water without neglecting the fundamental right of all people to a minimum amount of clean, safe drinking water.

M. Ramon Llamas has suggested applying a universal ethics to water policy and management practices [28]. Drawing on existing social ethical principles, he applies these principles to basic water management variables. For example, he applies the ethical principle of solidarity to balancing the needs of the many stakeholders involved in transboundary water disputes. Additionally, he applies the ethical principle of stewardship to sustainable development practices, which he notes need not exclude responsible use of dams and groundwater development. He notes that technology and conservation do not have to be mutually exclusive and that hydrogeological data, along with technology and education, "improve stakeholder participation and lead to efficient use of the resource." He also emphasizes the importance of water resource managers to honor the intrinsic, as well as the utilitarian values of water. Llamas' principles may sound a bit idealistic; however, his principles are flexible enough to honor the cultural, environmental, and individual rights that some have claimed may be compromised by explicit human rights to water.

Leonard Hammer has asserted that context is the greatest problem in defining human rights. He argues that the popular anthropocentric and eco-centric approaches to a human right to water create individual-group dichotomies that cannot be resolved [17]. Citing the "somewhat overbearing" nature of the General Comment No. 15 implementation strategies, he presents a framework that incorporates an individual human right to water with "a more holistic approach to water that accounts for broader social, cultural, and economic considerations as well." By "recognizing the environmental link with indigenous peoples and the importance of accounting for indigenous peoples in the sustainable development equation," he argues for an approach that incorporates indigenous rights, thereby protecting cultural, environmental and individual rights. The major drawbacks of Hammer's proposal are: (1) indigenous groups are difficult to define, and (2) it creates the potential for neglecting disadvantaged non-indigenous people. Nevertheless, Hammer's emphasis on a "local-based understanding of the needs and desires of the population" through indigenous participation is noteworthy when taken in its own context.

Marcus Moench has addressed the debate over whether water should be treated as a common good or as an economic good. He notes: "Debates over water rights have become particularly intense over the past decade as the concept of water as an economic good has gained prominence and come in conflict with the concept of water as a social good" [14]. He proposes an ethical approach to water policy, involving water as both an entitlement and as a public trust, to provide "a vehicle for granting water the status of a human right" [14]. Moench asserts that the first priority must be to provide access to water for all, i.e., water as a common good. He cites Garrett Hardin's "Tragedy of the Commons" as an argument for not treating water as a common good across the board, however; the premise of such an argument is that people tend to take for granted resources that are treated as common goods. Similar to the fourth Dublin Principle, Moench argues that individual rights to water encourage responsible use; therefore, they should not be excluded from water policy. Thus, he suggests that by combining an ethical approach with private rights notions, it is possible to create a framework to balance public interests and private incentives. As he says: "In most instances this is quite different from common conceptions of human rights" [14].

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