In the words of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), water is ‘the stuff of life and a basic human right’. Thus, water is an essential element for life - including human life - on earth and as a result is a core concern in law. From a legal perspective, the UNDP rightly emphasises the importance of the human right dimension of water. Yet, in practice, water law is made up of a number of elements comprising a human right dimension, as well as economic, environmental or agricultural aspects. In particular, historically, one of the central concerns of water law has been the development of principles concerning access to and control over water.
Drinking water is directly essential for human life. Water is also indirectly essential, for instance, as an indispensable input in agriculture. Yet, despite the central role that water has always played in sustaining life, human lives and human economies, the development of formal water law has been relatively slow and often patchy. At the domestic level, colonial legislation first focused on the regulation of water for economic reasons, for instance, through the development of legislation concerning irrigation and navigation. Over the past few decades, increasing water pollution and decreasing per capita availability have led to the development of other measures such as water quality regulation and an emphasis on water delivery, particularly in cities, as well as environmentrelated measures. Yet, water law remains largely sectoral till date.
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