178 MIZAN LAW REVIEW, Vol. 10, No.1 September 2016
to how the basic natural resources including air, land and water are governed. It
is stated that “….air is unowned and unownable; land is as fully privatize-able
as the law allows, and water is publicly owned but amenable to private rights of
use or a usufruct, to give it its formal name”.2 However, water has been
historically used, since the early civilizations, for different uses and tools; all
societies had their own approaches in regulating access to water and conceptions
of water rights.3 Most human rights activists argue that water law and water
rights are highly associated with the universal human right instruments, and
domestic laws adopt the human rights to water.4 Water rights can be widely
defined and applied as “the right to use or enjoy the flowing water in a stream”.5
The proponents of the human rights approach to water rights suggest the need
for ‘innovative response’ through separate water laws dealing with specific and
technical issues even if it is a duplication of effort and wastage of resource.6
Although early water use laws solely regulated issues linked to navigational
uses of shared water resources,7 later developments have necessitated the
regulation of the non-navigational uses of shared water resources.8 This shows
the need for ‘substantive water law reforms’ in general.9
Under different national laws, the types of water use and water use rights
maybe defined differently. “Water law, and thus water rights, reflect economic,
Proceedings of the Situational Analysis 3 Ethiopia & the River Awash Basin, RIPPLE
Office, Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) & the Water Futures Consortium, p, 20. Within River
Awash Basin, “...Conflicts and disputes have also arisen as a result of irrigation
development in the Middle and Lower Valleys that have displaced the ‘Afar’ grazing
2 Joseph L. Sax, (2012) ‘Reserved Public Rights in Water’, Vermont Law Review, Vol.
36:535, p. 535.
3 Stephen Hodgson (2006) Modern water rights, Theory and practice, Food and Agriculture
Organization of the United Nations, FAO Legislative Study 92, p. 9.
4 International Human Rights Law Clinic, (May 2013) The Human Right to Water Bill in
California, University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, p, 6. Citing Legislative
Intent—Assembly. Bill No. 685, ASSEM. J. 6817 (2011-2012 Reg. Sess.) The bill’s
legislative intent was “to create a state policy priority and direct state agencies to explicitly
consider the human right to water within their relevant administrative processes, measures
5 Anthony Scott and Georgina Coustalin, (1995), ‘The Evolution of Water Rights’, Natural
Resources Journal, Vol 36, pp, 821-979.
6 International Human Rights Law Clinic, supra note 4, p. 1.
7 Salman M. A. Salman, (2007). ‘The Helsinki Rules, the UN Watercourses Convention and
the Berlin Rules: Perspectives on International Water Law’, Water Resources
Development, Vol. 23, No. 4, pp 625–640.
8 Id., p. 625.
9 Stephen Hodgson, supra note 3, p. 1.