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The Political Economy Of The Human Right To Water


  • Branco, Manuel Couret
  • Henriques, Pedro Damiao de Sousa


A água é essencial à sobrevivência humana. Uma economia política humanizada, isto é dirigida para a satisfação das necessidades básicas, deve preocupar-se com a questão da disponibilidade e distribuição de água. No que diz respeito à satisfação das necessidades básicas, podemos afirmar que é relativamente fácil e barato fornecer água para todos. Porque razão, então existe uma desigualdade na distribuição? Esta desigualdade representa uma violação séria de um direito humano, como será desenvolvido à frente, e não deverá ser tolerada. Este artigo trata do papel que a economia desempenha no desigual exercício do direito humano de acesso à água potável. Este artigo examina como o discurso da economia dominante pode entrar em conflito com os direitos humanos em geral, e o direito à água em particular. No âmbito da teoria económica dominante, a satisfação de necessidades implica a utilização de conceitos como preço, oferta, procura, custos e benefícios, e por conseguinte a questão é capacidade de pagar ou poder de compra. Com os direitos, o assunto é diferente, sendo a questão principal, o critério de acordo com o qual um indivíduo está habilitado a usufruir dos direitos, não podendo por isso ser utilizado o critério do poder de compra. Para a economia é perfeitamente admissível excluir do acesso à água aqueles que não têm capacidade de pagar, violando princípios básicos dos direitos humanos. A economia dominante ao pôr toda a ênfase no mercado como a instituição reguladora, torna invisível o direito humano à água. Por um lado o mercado é ineficiente em atingir uma cobertura universal de água potável e por outro lado o mercado é uma instituição que não presta contas e a satisfação dos direitos humanos precisa por princípio de ser submetido ao controlo democrático. ---------------------------------------------Water being essential to human survival, a humane political economy, in other words a political economy directed to satisfying human basic needs, should be especially concerned with the issue of water availability and distribution. In what the satisfaction of basic needs is concerned, one could fairly safely state that it is relatively easy and cheap to provide access to water to everybody. Why is there such inequality in its distribution then? This inequality represents a serious violation of a human right, as it will be developed in the paper, and, therefore, should not be tolerated. The issue this paper wishes to address concerns the role played by economics in the unequal assertion of every people’s human right to clean water. First of all, what are we talking about when we talk about economics? A rapid overview can identify at least twenty schools of economic thought, from neoclassic to evolutionary, from Marxist to post-Keynesian. If one had to be accurate, a paper on the impact of economics on the human right to water human rights would, then, have to be divided in at least twenty chapters. The sort of economics we will be referring to in this paper results from a considerably narrower point of view, though. Economics, here, will be mainstream economics, the school of thought which dominates not only within the academia, but also within the political cabinets and the media. More specifically, this paper will examine how mainstream economics discourse can be conflictive with human rights in general and the right to water in particular. First of all, within mainstream economic analysis satisfying wants implies the use of concepts like prices, supply and demand, or cost and benefit, and therefore, the issue is capability to pay, in other words purchasing power. With rights, on the other hand, the issue is quite different; the heart of the matter here concerns entitlement, the criteria according to which an individual should qualify to enjoy rights, purchasing power being obviously excluded, and the consequences of the use of such criteria. Therefore it is perfectly admissible for economics to exclude from access to water those that do not have the capability to pay violating the basic principles of human rights. Secondly by putting emphasis on the market as the default regulation institution mainstream economics also hinders the human right to water because on the one hand the market is inefficient in reaching universal coverage of water supply and on the other hand it is an unaccountable institution and human rights purveyors need by principle to be submitted to democratic control.

Suggested Citation

  • Branco, Manuel Couret & Henriques, Pedro Damiao de Sousa, 2008. "The Political Economy Of The Human Right To Water," 46th Congress, July 20-23, 2008, Rio Branco, Acre, Brazil 108631, Sociedade Brasileira de Economia, Administracao e Sociologia Rural (SOBER).
  • Handle: RePEc:ags:sbrfsr:108631
    DOI: 10.22004/ag.econ.108631

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    Cited by:

    1. Sturla, Gino & Illanes, Camila, 2014. "La Política de Aguas en Chile y la Gran Minería del Cobre [Water Policy in Chile and the Great Copper Mining]," MPRA Paper 76089, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. Manuel Couret Branco & Pedro Damião Henriques, 2009. "Human Rights as a Tool for Sustainable Development," CEFAGE-UE Working Papers 2009_11, University of Evora, CEFAGE-UE (Portugal).

    More about this item


    Resource /Energy Economics and Policy;

    JEL classification:

    • A13 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Social Values
    • B40 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Economic Methodology - - - General
    • I30 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General


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