The sight of dehydrated children being handed meagre bottled water rations in Gaza, is surely grounds to reflect on the vitality of water and sanitation in any civilized society.

In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly declared water and sanitation a fundamental human right. Yet the declaration does not bind governments to action. For that, the right must be written into national law.

A cursory review of the countries where the human right to water and sanitation is in primary legislation is revealing. It’s not the wealthy nations. In these countries, the human right to water is ambiguous and emerges by dint of other legislation on, for example, the right to life or dignity. No, it’s countries where portions of the population have felt the full force of being denied the right. Thus, droughts, disputes and pollution have led to primary legislation in, for example, South Africa, Kenya, and Peru. Indeed, the UN declaration emerged from myriad struggles and claims of marginalised people living through water-related injustices.

So why is the human right to water an issue in Scotland now? Three reasons. First, the climate crisis. This spring's rainfall was 30% lower than average and hotter, drier summers are guaranteed by even the most cautious climate forecasts. Island and rural communities' water resources are vulnerable to these changes. Secondly, the Scottish Government will introduce a human rights bill next year. Thirdly, the Government has launched a consultation on the future of water, wastewater and drainage policy.

It is clear to me that access to water and sanitation is a fundamental human right and all governments should bind themselves through legislation to the UN declaration. Legal rights give a voice and agency to citizens on decisions that affect some fundamental good that is under threat. Water resources, if not now, will in the future be under threat. We ought not to wait until marginalised groups are badly affected to implement change. They should be given agency now.

However, making water and sanitation a human right, without sufficient forethought, could open up a hornet’s nest. That might be why so few governments have done so. Translating law into action falls upon technocrats and tumbles down to a suite of organisations; for water in Scotland, these include local authorities, regulators, Scottish Water and consumer groups, all of whom are embedded in the status quo.

It would be unfair to plonk responsibility for delivering the human right to water directly into the lap of a single organisation. The responsibilities and remits of organisations and, importantly, the funding to deliver the human right to water would need to change, which would require government, civil service and organisations to work together to reshape the water policy landscape. It would be nice to believe that fear of tackling these difficult political and administrative issues will not deter the Government from making access to water a human right. The law would stop the collective burying of heads in the sand when it comes to equitable solutions to impending water problems.

Professor Bill Sloan is Royal Academy of Engineering Chair at the University of Glasgow