This paper examines the scope for a rights-based perspective on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by focusing on right to water. The paper adapts Hohfeldian framework of elements of a right developed by Wenar. According to this, a right should be interpreted in terms of powers, privileges, claims and immunities. This framework highlights the inter-connections between various aspects of governance and the effectiveness of a right to water. The conjecture whether the poor are more likely to have access to water when there is a right to water is examined with data (from WHO–UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme) pertaining to a small sample of countries where a right to water has been promulgated and some others where such right has not been promulgated. The impact of governance on improving access to water is examined using indicators from Governance Matters V (Kaufman et al., 2006). This analysis suggests that mechanisms of governance may be more important in improving access to water than a formal articulation of a right to water. Some challenges to operationalising a right to water are discussed.