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Unpublished Paper
The problem of thirst: The right to equality and the unlawful privatization of water
ExpressO (2013)
  • Kasari JL Govender

The problem of thirst is a massive one, and a child dies every 15 seconds from disease related to lack of access to safe, clean water. Privatization is touted as the solution to water injustice, despite evidence that privatization of water services only increases water deprivation for the poorest citizens. This paper examines whether a privatized for-profit system of water access for personal use infringes the human right to water, and whether states have a legal responsibility to protect their citizens from any and all third party business interests in water. The problem of thirst is considered from the perspective of the right to equality, rather than the more traditional framework of the right to life.

The right to water is protected at international law. International human rights law establishes that states have a non-derogable obligation to ensure that no person is deprived of the minimum level of water essential to prevent disease, in any circumstance, and that the right to equality means that everyone has equal access to adequate water. Despite the arguments that water privatization will improve access for the world’s poor because it curbs wasteful consumption and distribution, efficiently allocates what’s left of a scarce resource, bypasses government corruption, and has greater capacity than the public sector, water corporations exist to generate profit, not to satisfy human rights or protect human dignity. Corporations only meet human needs insofar as those needs generate profit; unprofitable human needs cannot, by definition, be a valid corporate concern.

As a number of case studies demonstrate, private water provision is antithetical to the equal right to water, and therefore states have a legal obligation to keep water in the public commons in order to respect, protect and fulfill the equal right to adequate water. This paper ultimately argues that the public push towards water privatization, by major international institutions as well as by individual states, is in fact illegal under international law.

  • right to water,
  • international human rights law,
  • equality,
  • human rights,
  • constitutional law
Publication Date
August 9, 2013
Citation Information
Kasari JL Govender. "The problem of thirst: The right to equality and the unlawful privatization of water" ExpressO (2013)
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