Cross-cutting issueA human rights-based approach to water

Poor and marginalized groups are disproportionately affected by almost all water-related problems. SIWI applies a human rights-based approach to ensure that people living in vulnerable circumstances can influence decisions of importance to them.

Birds flying across a sunrise, with mountains in the background.Photo by Chase Yi

A human rights-based approach (HRBA) is a concept and an instrument used by development actors and agencies. It is one of SIWI’s cross-cutting issues and helps to ensure fair and efficient water management, in line with international human rights law. The human rights-based approach means that people, as rights-holders, are placed alongside the state, which is considered a duty-bearer with correlating obligations.

Applying a human rights-based approach is especially important when increasing water scarcity requires difficult prioritizations. It can help prevent a vicious cycle where the poor are at risk of falling further and further behind since they tend to be disproportionally affected by climate change and environmental degradation.

The human rights-based approach stresses that development cooperation assistance should be guided by certain principles and ways of working with water governance and resources management as the basis of decision-making processes. It serves to promote procedural standards of:

  • Participation and inclusion,
  • Accountability, transparency, and the rule of law,
  • Non-discrimination and equality,
  • Empowerment and capacity building, and
  • Transparency.

SIWI contributes to realizing human rights for all in different ways. One way is to ensure that the cross-cutting issues are mainstreamed into all projects and programmes. Continuous training and dialogues help all staff reflect on why and how human rights guide our work.

Empowerment and capacity-building are also essential. It is becoming increasingly clear that water management must be based in the human rights framework and standards such as the Do-no-harm principle. Water is fundamental to achieving all the sustainable development goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Here are some examples of how SIWI works with a human rights-based approach as a cross-cutting issue: