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Community Based Provision Of Water Services Through A Human Right To Water Lens

World Water Congress 2015 Edinburgh Scotland
15. Water law
Author(s): Oscar Flores Baquero
Paula Novo Nuñez
Alejandro Jiménez Fdez de Palencia
Agusti­ Pérez-Foguet

Universitat PolitÚcnica de Catalunya1, The Jamse Hutton Institute2, Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI)3

Keyword(s): Sub-theme 15: Water law,
Article: Oral:



Some Economic Social and Cultural Rights are intrinsically linked to the provision and access to certain services. Human Rights compliance has been traditionally based on a bilateral relationship between the State and the individual (United Nations, 2010). However, in the case of the Human Right to Water and Sanitation, water and sanitation supply can be transferred to a non-State actor. This implies that human rights compliance fells into the hands of a third actor. A large body of literature has somehow examined compliance with the principles of Human Rights when this third actor is a private entity (Bakker, 2007; Prasad, 2006). However little has been investigated about the ability of community based organizations to comply with Human Rights obligations, despite their relevant role in water and sanitation provision.

The Human Right to Water content is commonly divided into i) normative criteria: availability, quality/safety, physical accessibility, affordability and acceptability, and ii) cross-cutting criteria: non-discrimination, participation and accountability. The Human Right to Water normative dimensions are starting to be used to enrich the definition of service level, to which the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene sector brings its experience in monitoring these dimensions. However, measuring cross-cutting criteria at local level is less advanced. The international community has started to pay attention to non-discrimination issues. Yet individuals' participation along the design and service provision process, as well as accountability issues, lag behind the other criteria despite relevant research has already been conducted (Laban, 2007; Narayan, 1995; Prokopy, 2005). Elements such as participation and accountability have been also linked to the success of collective action (Madrigal, Alpízar, & SchlÌter, 2011; Ostrom, 2007). In this sense, the literature on collective action offers a complementary view to examine Human Right to Water compliance when the service provider is a community based organization.

The study examines the link between collective action at community level and compliance with Human Right to Water from the perspective of users (as right-holders) of rural water systems in Nicaragua, where community based organization are responsible of service provision.


Primary data has been collected through 165 household surveys from a total of 854 households in 11 communities of two micro-basins in the North-Central region of Nicaragua. When populations are small, as it is the case of communities studied, different methodologies for the design of samples exist. In this case we chose a method developed elsewhere (Giné Garriga & Pérez Foguet, 2013) which ensures an appropriate balance between the resources required for data collection and the accuracy of the results for decision making at the local level.

In relation to participation, indicators have been disaggregated into the three hierarchies proposed by Prokopy (2005). Some indicators commonly used to measure availability, physical accessibility and affordability normative criteria (Flores, Jiménez, & Pérez-Foguet, 2013) and accountability cross-cutting criterion have been considered to contextualized the level of service and governance issues, respectively. From a human rights point of view, accountability is normaly divided into three relevant dimensions: responsibility, answerability and enforceability (Ely Yamin, 2008). In this study we focus on the relationship of accountability of the provider to the citizen-client (The World Bank, 2003). Table 1 summarizes the indicators considered. All of them are dummy variables with values 0 (no) or 1 (yes).

Table 1. Cross-cutting and normative criteria: Indicators, levels and scores

Results and Discussion

First, the normative dimensions of the Human Right to Water show higher scores than the cross-cutting criteria in this case study. Overall, most households consider to have physical access to water at all times and at affordable rates as it is shown in table 2.

Table 2. Normative criteria of the Human Right to Water

Table 3 shows that participation materializes mainly in indicators associated to the lowest level of participation. Most of the families have contributed on labour or even cash. However, only some show positive answers according to middle participation indicators, specifically in tariff design and supervising construction. But just a few express that important decisions about operation of the system (investment on repairs, new connections and/or disconnections) were discussed and decided collectively.

Table 3. Levels of participation.

By contrast, as it is shown in table 4, results about accountability variables are significantly higher. More than 3 out of 4 families consider that formal operational rules exist, regular meetings occur and feel informed about systems operations. Nevertheless, just a few of them think that relevant decisions are discussed and decided together just as shown in table 3.

Table 4. Accountability of the provider to right holders'.


There is still a lot to be done in order to put the concept of Human Right to Water into practice. There is a knowledge gap about community based organizations ability to comply with Human Rights obligations as service providers. From a collective action point of view, participation and accountability are considered key elements for the sustainability of community based organizations. In addition, they are core components of the Human Right to Water. This study suggests and proves that participation and accountability criteria could be evaluated through individuals' perceptions as right-holders. It also shows that they are often the most disregarded aspects, which could help explaining the low performance of community based infrastructures in the long term and, therefore, the lack of compliance with the Human Right to Water.

This kind of analysis offers new insights into: i) reporting/monitoring human rights compliance at local level in a broad sense if they are combined with other indicators, ii) identifying priority actions for decision making of actors involved in interventions at decentralised level as it is evident that community based organizations usually need support to fulfil their responsibilities.

1. Bakker, K. (2007). Trickle Down? Private sector participation and the pro-poor water supply debate in Jakarta, Indonesia. Geoforum, 38(5), 855-868.

2. Ely Yamin, A. (2008). Beyond Compassion: The Central Role of Accountability in Applying a Human Rights Framework to Health. Health and Human Rights, 10(2), 1-20.

3. Flores, O., Jiménez, A., & Pérez-Foguet, A. (2013). Monitoring access to water in rural areas based on the human right to water framework: A local level case study in Nicaragua. International Journal of Water Resources Development, 29(4), 605-621.

4. Giné Garriga, R., & Pérez Foguet, A. (2013). Unravelling the Linkages Between Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Rural Poverty: The WASH Poverty Index. Water Resources Management, 27(5), 1501-1515.

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10. Prokopy, L. S. (2005). The relationship between participation and project outcomes: Evidence from rural water supply projects in India. World Development, 33(11), 1801-1819.

11. The World Bank. (2003). World Development Report 2004. Making services work for the poor. World Bank and Oxford University Press: Washington.

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