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The Right To Water And Criteria For Access Hurdles - An Institutional Economic Support Of The Post-2015 Agenda

Congress: 2015
Author(s): Wolfgang Bretschneider, Erik Gawel
Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research1, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research and University of Leipzig2

Keyword(s): Sub-theme 7: Global challenges for water governance,
AbstractBackground and objectives: The paper refers to the Millenium Development Goals (MDG) which have been a global initiative to help, besides other concerns of development, to implement a Human Right to Water (RtW). The target no. 7.C stated that, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation should be halved. The so-called Joint Monitoring Program (JMP) of WHO and UNICEF has observed that, contrary to the field of sanitation, the goal for access to safe drinking water has been achieved. Already in 2010 the critical amount of 88% of the world population was exceeded. Besides justified satisfaction with what has been achieved, this result is also criticized. Apart from the remaining 12% of the world population, for which the access criterion is not met, it is the criterion itself and corresponding indicators which have been called into question. The Post-2015 Agenda process addresses those shortcomings and intends to identify new targets as well as indicators for an implementation of the RtW. In this process a more subtle and more ambitious definition of access is addressed, with focus on non-discrimination and sustainability of provision. This contribution intends to present an institutional economic light on the RtW, particularly what its actual content is with regard to an implementation. The resultant findings can be set into relation to the discussion of the Post-2015 Agenda. It intends to draw attention to certain aspects that may have been underestimated in the discussion.

Approach: With the help of the method of institutional economics the considerations can be developed in three steps.

(1) At first the term of access is to be clarified. It is helpful to do this in discussion of the definitions of the widely accepted and influential General Comment No. 15 of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), which already distinguishes different access dimensions. It contains the differentiation between a pecuniary ("economic") and non-pecuniary ("physical") access dimension. However, we propose to distinguish within the non-pecuniary access dimension again in a spatial, qualitative and temporal access dimension. This has the advantage that all kinds of conditions, the customer is facing, are included in the term of access. The quantity of water is explicitly not included since this variable cannot be controlled by political regulation.

(2) As a second step it is helpful to consider each of the access dimensions as an access hurdle/barrier, which respectively hinders the customer from immediate and, in a broader sense, free use of drinking water. Thus, the pecuniary water price is the hurdle in the pecuniary access dimension. Analogically, there is a spatial distance, a temporal need of waiting, and the potential need of water treatment by the customer. At least for the pecuniary water price it can be stated, that such a barrier fulfills certain functions. These help to achieve other objectives of water price policy, such as ecological sustainability, efficiency, and refinancing. These are crucial particularly for a sustainable provision of water services.

(3) From a normative RtW-perspective access barriers have to comply with certain criteria, of which the mentioned functionality is the first one. This means, that non-functional hurdles, e.g. monopolistic price markups, are to be impeded. There are two further criteria. Access hurdles do not only have to be functional but also acceptable. This leads to the already well-known criteria of affordability for the pecuniary access hurdle, and "accessable" (spatially), available (temporarily) and safe (qualitatively) for the non-pecuniary access hurdles. Considering a single household, there would be only these two criteria of functionality and acceptability. However, an inter-individual, i.e. social perspective calls for a comparison and if so for comparability of access conditions. This leads to the third criterion of non-discrimination.

Results and discussion: The result of this approach with four access dimension (resp. hurdles) and three criteria leads to a 12-point-matrix, which is proposed as a foundation and orientation for a policy of the RtW. Working with such a framework leads to certain general insights. First, the RtW is basically a gradual problem, wherein normative specifications are to be set arbitrary in some sense. Second, the problem is multi-dimensional. Thus, there is no one-dimensional "ladder" of improvement. Third, in this regard a trade-off between pecuniary and non-pecuniary access hurdles should be taken into account. Finally, already each single criterion is at least difficult to measure empirically. All the more a total valuation is a complex issue. The use of indicators is thus only an approach to the problem.

Conclusions: From the perspective of the Post-2015 Agenda it is highly welcome, that the problem is generally considered to be gradual. Particularly the use of the term "service level" indicates a commensurate sensitivity. Moreover the importance of the criterion of non-discrimination as a crosscutting issue appears to be properly classified. On the other hand from our perspective the discussion on the Post-2015 Agenda should consider the following. The multi-dimensionality of access leads to a way of improvement which is not unambiguous. Still the discussion suggests the existence of a one-dimensional ladder of improvement. Second, the functionality of access-hurdles is not discussed at all. But this is necessary for a sustainability of service provision, which is rightly in the center of discussion. Moreover, the interaction between pecuniary and non-pecuniary access hurdles is not taken into account adequately. This problem is widely ignored. Finally, the general problem of impossibility of an adequate measuring appears to be underestimated. 1. Albuquerque, C. de (2012) The Future is Now. Eliminating Inequalities in Sanitation, Water and Hygiene. Global Thematic Consultation "Adressing Inequalities. The Heart of the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the Future We Want for All.", Geneva.

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