Water is a basic human need, which has been expressed, in legal terms, as a basic human right. In the post-conflict environment, the absence of safe water can negatively impact upon access to food and/or can weaken already compromised public health leading to greater mortality rates, which can undermine efforts to build peace. At a broader level, agricultural food production can also be a source of employment and therefore comprise a means of restoring individual's livelihoods, eradicating poverty and supporting economic recovery, all of which have a central role in building peace. The centrality of water in post-conflict peace-building can be affirmed with a human rights law analysis which recognises that the rights to water, health, food and life are inter-related. Thus, the human rights framework supports a holistic approach to the provision of water services in the post-conflict environment.
However, the provision of water services must be done on an equitable basis because failure to do so can undermine the legitimacy of the State in the medium to long term and/or harm moves towards reconciliation between communities seeking to overcome conflict. The requirement of equity can be expressed in human rights language where the rights to equality and non-discrimination are foundational and, as such, must be the basis of State decision-making in the provision of water services. The equitable distribution of water is also a matter for the international community because, although human rights law is premised primarily on governing the State's relationship with its own citizens, recent developments reveal that States' human rights obligations can extend outside of their own territory. Therefore, States, as international actors, must take their extraterritorial human rights obligations into account as they engage in post-conflict peace-building.
This paper will argue that an understanding that water is (i) a human right affecting the promotion and protection of other rights which (ii) must be promoted and protected on an equal and non-discriminatory basis must underpin post-conflict decision-making amongst stake-holders, be they local, national or international, when they prioritise and coordinate water management and invest in infrastructure both physical and institutional.