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Exploring the challenges of implementing the rights-based approach to development : the case of the right to water in peri-urban Zambia.

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Water is an essential element of life. On average, 60 to 70 percent of a human body mass is water . In order to perform its functions properly, it is estimated that a human body needs about 2 to 3 litres of clean water per day2. For this reason, access to adequate, clean and safe water is indispensable to achieving human well-being, and securing human freedom and dignity. Given the important role water plays in sustaining human life, enhancing human dignity, freedom and development, it has been widely submitted that access to clean water should be recognised as an inalienable right. Ironically, although water is a basic requirement for life, access to water has not been adequately proclaimed and treated as a human right, especially in domestic law. Other than the international human rights instruments, there are very few countries which have explicitly protected access to water in the national constitutions and other major pieces of legislation. Arising from this is the question of whether explicit recognition of the right to water makes a difference for people living without access to safe sources of water. The main argument persued in this study is that although explicit recognition of the right to water can make a difference in the lives of millions of people who have no access to clean sources of water, mere recognition of the right to water does not constitute a 'magic bullet' for the challenges of access to clean water. Realizing the right to water requires moving beyond mere recognition to deeper levels of commitment which includes taking appropriate measures and implementing them. Moving beyond mere recognition, in turn, requires adequate and responsive institutions through which the rights can be asserted, contested and effectuated. In this context, civil society constitutes an important component of the institutional set up through which the right to water can be effectuated. The importance of civil society in realizing the right to water lies in the fact that human rights are not just given on a silver platter, they must be asserted, sufficiently contested for, and claimed. While the deployment of a rights-based approach to issues of access to water is in its infancy stages, it is apparent from the evidence gathered in this study that the rights-based approach is weak in unlocking and hooking into the real-politik, despite its rhetorical strength. This study explores the challenges faced in implementing the right to water. Focus in the study is on processes that produce situations where the right to water is, first of all, not well recognized as a human right; and secondly, processes that lead to the right to water not being fulfilled for millions of people. What the Zambian case has revealed is that failure to ensure that people have access to clean sources of water is not solely a question of lack of or inadequate resources as the situation is often made to appear in conventional political discourse. There are multiple factors involved, including inappropriate management of processes, systems and resources, which often is a consequence of lack of political will and commitment. Given the nature of the issues under investigation, a multi-method approach, which is a combination of different research methods and strategies, has been employed. Field work for the study was conducted in three different peri-urban communities in Zambia.


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of KwaZulu-Natal, 2007.


Civil rights--Environmental aspects., Water-supply--Zambia., Water rights--Zambia., Theses--Development studies.