States are urged frequently by the UN, policymakers, and activists to recognise the human right to water domestically. However, does such legal incorporation, often in national constitutions, affect water policy and the realisation of the right? While several qualitative studies report positive impacts, initial quantitative assessments have questioned the systematic positive impact of the national recognition of the human right to water. Yet, such quantitative analyses of the effects of constitutional rights to water often overlook important mediating policy factors. We test specifically whether strong democratic governance is a significant condition for ensuring that the constitutional recognition of the human right to water has concrete outcomes. Results of a multivariate regression analysis on a global sample of 123 states over a 15-year period provide two findings. First, the constitutionalisation of the right to water and other economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCRs), in national constitutions alone is not associated with material benefits related to the human right to water. Second, the constitutionalisation of those rights can have positive material benefits for water access when the rights are foregrounded in democratic governance.
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