The Human Right to Water and Sanitation: The Case of Palestine for Assessing the Opportunities and Potential Pitfalls of a Discourse

By Stephen P. Gasteyer
Submitted to Session P4636 (Water and Power Politics: Palestine and Lebanon, 2016 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
With the passage of United Nations General Assembly Resolution officially recognizing the Human Right to Water and Sanitation (HRWS), there has been increasing interest in understanding how the human rights framework may influence work on water justice. Using case studies from the occupied Palestinian territories, this paper argues that the human rights frame provides new opportunities to explore the issue of water justice in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Based on field work, data analysis, and interviews with key actors, this paper outlines applied research strategies for data collection and analysis, and conceptual and practical opportunities and pitfalls in the use of the human rights frame in addressing water issues. Opportunities include using the framework to empower Palestinian community residents to engage in making claims to the right to water and sanitation. These include both access to water resources and protection of deterioration of those resources. The paper describes efforts to implement participatory citizen monitoring of existing and changing conditions of water availability and management practices. The participatory research strategy includes engagement of citizens in monitoring a range of issues, including both the extent and effects of intermittency of domestic water delivery, availability of sanitation services, household costs around water (including service fees and fees for additional infrastructure to address intermittent supply issues), to conditions associated with rural water supply, including the impacts of landscape change and colonial settlement on quality and quantity of water supply through Springs and irrigation networks. This research also documents the ripple effects of improving water availability in communities, while also highlighting the significant barriers to public participation in water decision making. While the author acknowledges significant pitfalls from adopting an HRWS discourse, including the inherent urban and domestic use bias, the paper attempts to demonstrate how use of methods that adopt historical landscape change and right to nature discourses can provide an opening for addressing the right to this most basic of natural resources.