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Ohdedar, Birsha (2019) The Human Right to Water, Climate Change and Justice: Analysing multiple interactions through a case study of India. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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Climate change poses new and complex questions related to water and how it is accessed, distributed and conserved. In India, where water conflicts and water stress have already been prevalent, face critical issues in this context. Access to water for basic needs is still a major issue for a significant part of the population. In this context, the realisation of the human right to water is significant. This thesis analyses the human right to water from a climate and water justice perspective. The justice framework developed in this thesis draws upon political ecology and human geography, to examine questions of ‘how’ injustices occur. Political ecologists have highlighted to how climate and water injustices are ‘produced’ through both social and ecological processes interacting. Thus, the realisation of human right to water is viewed based on the interaction of these processes. The thesis unpacks the ‘production’ of water and climate (in)justice, through these processes, and specifically examines the role of law and the realisation of the right to water. Case studies are carried out in two different states of India - West Bengal and Rajasthan - in areas experiencing sea level rise, floods and droughts. The case studies analyse the role of law and policy, interacting with governance processes, the role of the state, urbanisation, neoliberalism, hydropower, as well as discourses and ideas around water, land and climate. Law and policy play an integral role here, differentially allocating power, creating hierarchies, priorities and mediating relationships. Ultimately, it is demonstrated that the (unequal) realisation of the right to water access to water is mediated through contestations driven by these processes. Drawing on the empirical case studies, the thesis critiques the current framing of the human right to water. To a large extent, the delivery of the human right to water has been through a narrow focus on delivering access to drinking and domestic water (a consumption or entitlement approach). Such an interpretation is broadly consistent with the international policy level, where the right is seen as an individual right of access to a particular quantity of water for consumption. However, it is demonstrated that such a narrow framing does not adequately tackle the daily struggles for water that are experienced from a water and climate justice perspective. Accordingly, the thesis argues that the human right to water needs to be a tool to reformulate the way water is shared, distributed and conserved across different scales. It needs to change from a consumption or entitlement right to a right to ‘transform’ the ‘hydro-social’ conditions and processes which mediate how water is accessed. In order to do this, the right needs to recognise multiple uses of water, to transform into broader right to reclaim the commons, and to incorporate more radical forms of participation.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Philippe Cullet
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 20 Jul 2021 15:42

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