The Right to Water

"At the global level, approximately one out of every eight people do not have drinking water."
© New York Academy of Sciences

On Wednesday, August 11, the United Nations General Assembly declared water and clean sanitation a basic human right. Some 122 countries supported the resolution, while the U.S. and Canada, along with 40 other countries, chose to abstain from the vote.

Introduced by Bolivia's permanent representative to the United Nations, Pablo Solon, the resolution is the first step in solving a growing epidemic. Solon says: "At the global level, approximately one out of every eight people do not have drinking water,” reports the World Health Organization and of UNICEF in a 2009 document titled “Diarrhea: Why Children Are (Still) Dying and What We Can Do.” It continues: “every day 24,000 children die in developing countries due to causes that can be prevented, such as diarrhea, which is caused by contaminated water. This means that a child dies every three-and-a-half seconds."

When asked why key industrialized countries chose to abstain from the vote, Maude Barlow, head of the Council of Canadians, pointed to economics. She responded: "It's very important for you to know that they did not allow the inclusion of the words "access to" . . . because if you say you have access to it, then…all the government has to do is provide you access. Then they can charge you, or they can have a private company come in and deliver it and charge you."

Barlow notes that seeing water as a commodity, as opposed to a basic human right, allows countries to privatize safe drinking water. This effectively condemns hundreds of millions of people who cannot afford to pay for clean water to dirty drinking water and eventual disease.

Despite the success of the resolution, both Barlow and Solon confess that passing the resolution is just the beginning of a long battle. Says Barlow, "What it is is a moral statement, a guiding principle, of the countries of the world . . . that they have taken a step in a direction of saying that water is a human right and a public trust and that no one should be dying for lack of water."

SOURCE: Democracy Now