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The Political Economy Of The Human Right To Water


  • Manuel Couret Branco

    () (Universidade de Evora, Departamento de Economia)

  • Pedro Damiao Henriques

    () (Universidade de Evora, Departamento de Economia)


Water being essential to human survival, a political economy directed to satisfying human basic needs, should be especially concerned with the issue of water availability and distribution. Why is there such inequality in its distribution? 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: 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, 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 ability 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 as well as 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. Second, by putting emphasis on the market as the default regulation institution, mainstream economics also hinders the human right to water because on one hand 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

  • Manuel Couret Branco & Pedro Damiao Henriques, 2008. "The Political Economy Of The Human Right To Water," CEFAGE-UE Working Papers 2008_03, University of Evora, CEFAGE-UE (Portugal).
  • Handle: RePEc:cfe:wpcefa:2008_03

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    References listed on IDEAS

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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


    Human Rights; Right to Water; Economic Theory; Market.;

    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
    • Q25 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation - - - Water

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