This article applies the global environmental justice (GEJ) approach to the problem of universal access to safe and potable water. Nowhere is the challenge more pressing than in peri-urban spaces where the lack of formal water provision and increasing environmental pollution lead to significant challenges for human wellbeing.
We examine how and whether global discourses concerning the human right to water can be strengthened by resorting to GEJ, not least to allow for sustainable human–environmental interaction, in order to meet growing water needs in rapidly expanding urban areas. By drawing on local people’s experiences and mobilisations around water in peri-urban localities in Bolivia and India, the article examines the contradictions around the implementation of the right to water in charged peri-urban spaces.
It demonstrates how environmental injustices and rights violations often go hand in hand and that struggles to access water are also struggles about environmental justice and sustainability. Still, while global frameworks provide moral imperatives, urban spaces in the global south offer certain challenges to realising rights and environmental justice. This is due to the contradictory nature of the state and its disregard for marginalised people, unequal experiences of citizenship, elite biases in policy making and planning, resource capture by powerful players as well as significant distributional, recognition and procedural problems. Thus, even though GEJ is a powerful tool to counter local injustices, its actual uptake will be shaped by diverse national and local political economies which may not be conducive to realising justice and rights.