Globally, some 2.5 billion people depend solely on groundwater to satisfy their daily drinking water needs. The reliance on this resource and its centrality to realize the human right to ‘safe’ drinking water has increased manifold, but this is yet to be fully acknowledged globally or by governments and political leaders at the national level. This paper analyses the interface of international human rights law, as corresponding to the obligations and responsibilities of different actors, regarding groundwater resources planning, management and protection. Drawing on the literature, we discuss the State’s duties to respect, protect and fulfil this right especially in relation to the freedom of end-users to self-supply from groundwater sources; the training and regulation of non-State service providers including drillers and private vendors; and health and safety concerns. Interpreting the State’s duty to ‘fulfil’ through direct water service provision ‘as a last resort’, this paper suggests that self-provision is the original norm for enjoying the right to water. This has significant implications for the State’s role in raising awareness concerning point source protection and aquifer recharge for water resources management and in decisions concerning water allocation. By ignoring self-provision, which is primarily from groundwater, the State is not only missing a tremendous opportunity but is jeopardizing the water security of future generations.
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