Opposing commodification of water

Commodities are regulated by markets, they are exchanged against a price, and their price grows according to their abundance or scarcity. By commodification a specific issue is meant: treating as commodities goods or services that cannot respond to a market logic, having a different nature. This is particularly the case for human rights.


Since 1992 Dublin Statement on Water and Sustainable Development, water has been consistently regarded as “an economic good in all its competing uses”. The WWC and the World Bank promoted since 1993 the model “Integrated Water Resources Management” (IWRM), subordinating investments in water services to their privatization. Privatization of water management and services does reinforce treatment of water as an economic good. This approach has been formalized by the World Summits in Rio de Janeiro (Rio+10, Rio+20). The EU with the Water Directive 2000 has imposed the principle of full cost recovery, confirming thus the economic value of water. Even the new Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development  still focuses on  an affordable price as the way to ensure access to water to all, thus confirming that water requires having a price; the “affordable price” is indeed becoming the dominant approach to the human right to water.


However, since 2010 UN Resolutions, water is formally recognized as a universal, autonomous and specific human right. Accordingly, one would expect that water policies have changed, that policies based on the idea that water is an economic good would be over, and global water governance would be by now organized according to the new awareness of international community. If  water is a universal human right, then we need to govern water according to this principle. From this vantage point, we easily see that future perspectives of water scarcity – due to demographic growth and climate changes – put under stress the respect of the human right to water, rather than increasing water value on the market as for the economic approach. If water is a human right indispensable to life, access to water cannot be submitted to the payment of a price, as low and affordable it might be; the vital minimum quantity needs to be free of charge and guaranteed by the State, while pricing policies would rather be used to sanction waste and pollution. If water is a human right, the market of bottled water, reducing water to a commodity like any other, needs to be thwarted, the human right requiring that the resource is treated as a common good, used to the advantage of all and not handed over to private firms for their profits.


In order to counteract the tendency to commodification of water still dominant, the Protocol defines water as a public common good, establishes a priority of the human use of water for life over other uses, quantifies a vital minimum of water responding to the universal human right, therefore out of any economic exchange and to be assured free of charge from the State, without discriminations of any sort and without exceptions, not even in state of war, defines States responsibility in ensuring the human right to water and judicial execution of violations of the human right before International Courts for the Human Rights.