Water Justice Programme

The Water Justice Programme (WaJuP) critically examines the politics and pathways of water and sanitation policy and practice through interdisciplinary research on access, rights and control over these key resources. Through this research we ask how future global action on water and sanitation and water resources management can centralise the needs of the poor and most marginalised.

Water and sanitation for all provided in an equitable and sustainable way is central to global justice for poor women and men. Despite successive global declarations and efforts, hundreds of millions still suffer from lack of access. Simplistic portrayals of water and sanitation ‘crises’ have often led to misunderstandings on the nature of the problem and how to address it. The result has been a failure to centralise the needs and interests of the poor and marginalised within different solutions. Our research works in the following areas to seek sustainable and equitable solutions:

Rights and global politics

Even though water and sanitation are recognised as global rights, we ask:

  • Why is there such a gap between rights talk and rights practice?
  • How can questions of accountability, duties, responsibilities and financial arrangements be adequately addressed to make rights a reality for poor women and men? 
  • How do different rights jurisdictions interact with each other, and how can the rights of those most at risk be protected and strengthened?

Risk, sustainability and equity

Sanitation and water supply and water resources management need to become more equitable and sustainable in order to ensure future global poverty reduction, we ask:

  • How, given growing uncertainties, including rapid urbanisation and climate change policy can be constructed that more adequately responds to issues of risk and vulnerability?
  • Given that sustainability will always be contested, how can we ensure that we balance the right to water with other rights, including environmental justice and environmental flows to sustain ecosystems?

Growth and development

Water resources management and water and sanitation services are central to achieving equitable economic growth, we ask:

  • How can we ensure that policy instruments avoid harm and ensure fair entitlements for poor and marginalised communities?
  • How can managers and users be enabled to balance demands between sectors and between urban and rural areas more effectively in order to ensure greater human security?

Key contacts

Project details

start date
1 November 2012
end date
7 November 2017

Recent work


World Water Day: we need to talk about inequality as well as waste

On World Water Day, there is an urgent call for the global community to stop water waste and focus efforts on improving water quality. While much of the debate on water quality has been very technical, IDS and the ESRC STEPS Centre have tried to inject social science perspectives and call for...

22 March 2017

Journal Article

The Global Politics of Water Grabbing


The contestation and appropriation of water is not new, but recent global debates on land grabbing are bringing increased attention to a water perspective in these discussions. Water grabbing takes place in a field that is plural-legal, both locally and globally. Formal law has been fostering...

1 November 2013

Journal Article

Some for All?’ Politics and Pathways in Water and Sanitation


This IDS Bulletin looks back at the legacy of the UN’s New Delhi 1990 global consultation and the Dublin Conference that followed, assessing their meaning and significance, and challenging the wider global water and sanitation community to rethink approaches and emphases, shifting from targets...

29 January 2012


The Social Construction of Scarcity: The Case of Water in Western India

The world is caught in the mesh of a series of environmental crises. So far attempts at resolving the deep basis of these have been superficial and disorganized. Global Political Ecology links the political economy of global capitalism with the political ecology of a series of environmental...

1 November 2011


Shit Matters: The Potential of Community-Led Total Sanitation

Sanitation remains one of the biggest development challenges of our time, and a long-neglected issue associated with taboos and stigma. Despite growing attention and efforts, many top-down approaches to sanitation have failed, reflecting that simply providing people with a latrine or toilet does...

1 April 2011