Washington International Law Journal


Sarah I. Hale


Water is widely recognized as an essential element to sustain life, yet attaining universal access to clean drinking water remains a perplexing issue throughout the lesser-developed world. In 1997, with backing from private investment and the World Bank, the Philippine government privatized the municipal water utility of Manila in an effort to improve service and promote efficiency. Nearly ten years later, privatization has failed to produce results and instead has engendered a contentious and polemical debate about the merits of privatization. Indeed, for policy makers, the case study of Manila has become a focal point in the debate about whether private companies or governments should operate municipal water utilities. This Comment argues that current models for water services, whether private or public, will continually fail to address the economic, social, and political needs of lesser-developed nations unless they recognize the human right to water. Although it has not attained the status of binding international law, the human right to water offers an alternative model for understanding the terms of the privatization debate. In the context of privatization, states must protect the human right to water through strong regulatory measures that guarantee access to water and prevent private companies from infringing on this right. Privatization in the Philippines currently does not protect the human right to water, and in future plans, the Philippine government should take steps to acknowledge and protect this right through strong regulatory controls and a universal access plan. This issue is timely for the Asian Pacific region, with its large number of failing privatized water systems. Water as a human right will be a useful model for the entire region.

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