Water as a Human Right

I was appalled to read the following item. On reflection it echoes some of our Australian governments’ views that they might own all water, including rainwater (ref debate during the previous drought leading to the desal plant) and control it accordingly.

If Nestle and others are of this opinion you can bet they have lobbyists promoting it and pro-business MPs listening. While Australia was parched companies flogging bottled water were gleefully extracting water almost for free to sell for $1’s per litre, all with the blessing of Victoria government and probably others.



I’ve seen this floating around for a long time. Does anyone know if it’s true or not? (I sincerely hope it isn’t.) I can’t find a reference on Snopes.

Ideally governments should own water on behalf of the populace, so that individuals and corporations don’t privatise and over/misuse it (think Cubby Station; growing rice, of all things, in Australia; over-allocation of Murray-Darling water etc.). Unfortunately governments manage our common resources for sale to the highest bidder.

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I don’t think it is much of a stretch to imagine Mike Baird putting Sydney Water up for sale on the basis that private industry would deliver our water supply more efficiently

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This seems to offer some clarifications but does not negate the premise.

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The main problem with the heading of this topic is the assumption that there is such a thing as a ‘human right’. There isn’t. People talk of such things as though they are part of the natural order, or God-given, but they are not. If we contract for it, then someone may owe us a right (eg, a Government), but we in turn have an obligation to them. In this case, if we supposedly have a right to drinking water, who has the obligation to provide it? Does it still exist if you are broken down in the desert? Rights are illusory.


That’s a political opinion not a statement of fact


Interesting petermac. You seem to be of the opinion that someone, a business for example, owns (eg) rainwater and streams, as well as lake and river water. From my perspective you are intermingling naturally occurring things (eg naturally occurring water) with things that must be “manufactured” or delivered in some way (eg pipelines, purification plants). Allowing a company to determine who gets water, a basic need for life, that is “just there” seems unconscionable while making a price for the delivery (eg convenience, aka place utility) is admittedly an economic discussion.

Would you be as happy to pay for the air you breath should some business or government claim it is all theirs and somehow managed to suck it into a storage container for sale and create an atmosphere devoid of sufficient oxygen? Or otherwise die if you could not afford it?

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Not at all, BBG; quite the contrary, I agree with you. However the fact that we enjoy nearly-free tap water and free air is not a ‘right’, it’s a happy accident of nature. We could have free food if we ate grass, too. Personally, I think people that buy bottled water to drink when our tap water is generally fine (apart from the added Fluoride) need their heads read. Fancy paying more for water than petrol!
None of this has anything to do with ‘human rights’ though. Governments need to protect us from corporate greed.

If one includes water as food… citing a relevant convention:

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI) of 16 December 1966
entry into force 3 January 1976, in accordance with article 27

Article 11

  1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right, recognizing to this effect the essential importance of international co-operation based on free consent.

  2. The States Parties to the present Covenant, recognizing the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger, shall take, individually and through international co-operation, the measures, including specific programmes, which are needed:

(a) To improve methods of production, conservation and distribution of food by making full use of technical and scientific knowledge, by disseminating knowledge of the principles of nutrition and by developing or reforming agrarian systems in such a way as to achieve the most efficient development and utilization of natural resources;

(b) Taking into account the problems of both food-importing and food-exporting countries, to ensure an equitable distribution of world food supplies in relation to need.

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Very interesting discussion. It’s worth checking out the thinking from the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR - because the UN loves a good acronym). They’ve done a fair amount of work on the right to water as a component of the right to food in the International Covenant for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Their General Comment 15 outlines the detail.

They say safe water should be accessible and affordable for all. CESCR reviews country compliance with the ICESCR regularly, issues with water rights have come up with a couple of country reviews.


Going back to the original question - is it true? I saw a documentary a few years ago in Germany aired by one of the reputable state chanels which focused on exactly this issue. It seemed a very well researched and documented film. So, sadly, I think it is true. A good example of the more perverse aspects of capitalism/free market ideology gone feral.

Now and then I have heard noises from Government about charging us water rates for water in our Rainwater Tanks, water from our submersible bore pump and even a Dam if used for household. The subject quickly dies away so the Government must be just testing public opinion now and then.If Bore water is used for commercial gain maybe it should be rated, normally larger quantities are used than compared to household use only.Some people think bore water supply is unlimited.
In our situation ,I had to pay all of the costs for Bore hole ,pump, electricity, tanks , water softener, and pressure pumps so I totally disagree with any Government charge for a service they don’t supply here.

Also for @PhilT @Fred

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