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Groundwater and the human right to water: Coping through self-supply

IWRA 2020 Online Conference - Addressing Groundwater Resilience under Climate Change
THEME 4. Groundwater Governance, Management and Policy
Author(s): Jenny Grönwall and Kerstin Danert

Dr Jenny Grönwall and Dr Kerstin Danert
SIWI (Stockholm International Water Institute)

Keyword(s): Self-supply, off-grid, human rights, HRWS


(a) Purpose or objectives and status of study or research hypothesis

Groundwater self-supply for domestic use has become associated with climate change adaptation and responses to Day Zero-predictions for urban upper and middle income populations in several countries. In rural, and peri-urban areas, it is the poor who must self-supply if they lack adequate services. Drivers for self-supply in urban areas include increased tariffs, and intermittent or a complete lack of piped supply services. In rural areas, population density may be too low to warrant piped water supply or it is difficult or expensive for development programmes to construct point water sources.
The State has duties to respect, protect and fulfil the human right to safe drinking water. We provoke discussion that the State’s duty ‘to fulfil’ through direct water service provision is only applicable as ‘a last resort’.

(b) Key issue(s) or problem(s) addressed

Globally, some 2.5 billion people depend solely on groundwater to satisfy their drinking water needs. The reliance on groundwater to realize the human right to water has increased manifold, but the role of groundwater and that of self-supply as coping mechanism is not fully acknowledged by national policy makers or globally.
Improved understanding of groundwater resources, including the vulnerability to climate variability and climate change is necessary in order to identify risks and adequately manage the resource.

(c) Methodology or approach used

We analyze international human rights law with respect to the obligations of different actors regarding groundwater resources planning, management and protection, drawing on central UN documents, national case law, the literature and our own empirical observations.

(d) Results and conclusions derived from the project

Our results indicate that self-provision is the original norm for individuals and groups to enjoy the human right to water. However, end-users of groundwater have lawful claims on the State and its proxies in situations and environments where people cannot reasonably be expected to
have their own means or mechanisms to self-supply or endanger the resource. Such cases have equity concerns and are likely to proliferate with climate change.

(e) Implications of the project relevant to selected conference theme, theory and/or practice

Groundwater abstraction by individual households’ place little pressure on groundwater resources relative to other uses (i.e. industry and agriculture) and provide timely and cheap access to water for billions of people. Governance measures must consider how domestic use can be protected in the face of competition from other uses and climate-induced precipitation and other changes that can impact on the resource. Adequate source protection and climate-resilient water safety plans are essential alongside appropriate hand dug well, borehole or protected spring design and construction.

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