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Getting Access Right

Author(s): Human rights and household water rights in Ghana
Congress: 2008
Author(s): Irit Eguavoen, Daniel Spalthoff

Keyword(s): Human Right to Water, Water Rights, –Institutional Change, Volta River Basin, Ghana
AbstractIn 2002, the UN Economic and Social Council made the Human Right to Water explicit. Its comment 15 obliges covenants to proscribe any discrimination with the intention or effect of nullifying or impairing people’s equal enjoyment or exercise of the Right to Water. On one hand, Ghana faces the challenge to provide its population with sufficient household water. On the other hand, local water rights already implicate a basic right to water for primary uses and livestock watering. It is references to a globally defined Human Right to Water rather than local rights, which are commonly used by Ghanaian civil society actors who fight against pollution of water sources and the privatization of urban water supply. Privatization is suspected to lead to high water tariffs, the exclusion of the water users in decision-making and reduction of access or higher cost for the poor. Therefore, the paper touches following questions: (1) what rights to water are existent and relevant in Ghana? (2) What role do right-based discourses play in the negotiations of water and access to water? The country serves as a case study on the possible local implementation of a globally defined Human Right to Water. Whilst rural and peri-urban water supply was reorganized under the “National Community Water and Sanitation Program” in the 1990s, which stresses on the management by local water users, it is Public Private Partnerships which were under debate in the country since 1994 in the urban context. The political discourse around drinking water in Ghana is shaped by a neo-liberal agenda and three major targets: poverty alleviation, cost- recovery and equal access. But the way to reach improved access is worth looking at in detail. This is so because a country’s water supply displays more than one policy approach and more than one water management system. Instead, various water right regimes co-exist. The paper focuses on the ways how access in regulated in different water right regimes, starting with the rural/ peri-urban context and then shifting to the urban/ metropolitan water supply. The paper suggests that the global definition of the Human Right to Water was generally fuelled by the debates on the privatization of metropolitan water supply of the developing countries as well as by the need for more efficient legal tools to stop practices, which endanger the quality of water resources. The empirical material indicates the context-dependency of popular policy concepts, such as rights, access, privatization, or the price of water. Whilst in the rural water sector, the impact of the Right to Water is of no relevance, it has been limited to the discursive level in the urban water sector. The paper is based on long-term field research using quantitative as well as qualitative methods carried out in the context of the GLOWA Volta research project (Global Change in the Hydrological Cycle).
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