The IUCN Academy of Environmental Law series
Edited by Michael Kidd, Loretta Feris, Tumai Murombo and Alejandro Iza
Chapter 14: The right to water and its misconceptions, between developed and developing countries
In June 2011 two referendaon water issues were held in Italy. The first was commonly known as the referendum against the privatization of water services; the second as the referendum against profits on water services. Simplifying even more, the two referenda were known as the referenda for public water. Their scope, according to promoters of the public consultation, was to guarantee the ‘right to water’ to citizens. The real objects of the referenda – that is, specific issues concerning the management and cost of water services – were artificially, superficially and demagogically connected to a fundamental ‘right’, the right to water, officially affirmed at the international level after decades of discussions. The public debate therefore focused on general principles, forgetting that the referendum is a precise legal and institutional tool, provided by the Italian Constitution (article 75) in order to abrogate a specific piece of legislation. The two referenda were technically (in a legal sense) complex and their contents and possible outcomes were very different from the political and media presentation. Without going into too much detail, the first could have been described as the referendum against (legislative and administrative) favour for private management of water services, and the second as the referendum against the explicit inclusion of private profits into the water services tariffs. The heated campaigning was focused on something different.
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