This post is one of ten in the serialization of my paper on human rights, which is introduced here.
Human rights in water
Rights create obligations and guarantees. If these are violated, civil and violent conflict can result. Thus, we have to be careful about who gets what rights. To understand the costs, begin with the difference between negative and positive rights. Negative rights (e.g., the right to free speech) should not be taken from you; positive rights (e.g., the right to “clean and accessible water, adequate for the health…") should be given to you. We can immediately see that it is easier to protect negative rights from violation by an outsider than positive rights, which as violated by a lack of action. Even worse, we cannot tell when action, of a certain quality, quantity or price, is enough. Finally, consider that the cost of positive rights grows with demand (e.g., population); it costs nothing to supply an increased demand for negative rights.
For a useful example of the differences between negative and positive rights, recall the “Four Freedoms" that President Roosevelt proclaimed in a 1941 speech to the American people: freedom of speech and expression, of religion, from want, and from fear. The first two are easy to deliver (by not doing anything to interfere with them), but the second pair are essentially impossible to provide. Even if “we have nothing to fear but fear itself," there is nothing that an outsider (or the government) can do to convince someone that their want or fear has been provided for. But enough of this philosophical chatter. What happens in countries where citizens have a constitutional, human right to water?
In tomorrow's episode, I show that countries with a right to water serve leave just as many people dry as countries without that right