Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Water: A Human Right

Today the United Nations General Assembly passed a draft resolution declaring access to clean water and proper sanitation a Human Right.

A group calling itself Article 31 has been pushing the adoption of access to clean water the 31st Article in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. They would write the article in this manner:
Everyone has the right to clean and accessible water, adequate for the health and well-being of the individual and family, and no one shall be deprived of such access or quality of water due to individual economic circumstance.

The reason for this is simple:
The text of the resolution expresses deep concern that an estimated 884 million people lack access to safe drinking water and a total of more than 2.6 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation. Studies also indicate about 1.5 million children under the age of five die each year and 443 million school days are lost because of water- and sanitation-related diseases.

Water is one of the basic necessities of life. Without water, life on this planet does not exist. We need water and we need clean, safe water. The resolution makes it clear that it is the right of all people to have access to this water.

The actual wording for some of the text is:
Declares the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as
a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights;
2. Calls upon States and international organizations to provide financial resources, capacity-building and technology transfer, through international assistance and cooperation, in particular to developing countries, in order to scale up efforts to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all;

It seems so straightforward. After all, we do all understand that when we are thirsty, water is the best way to sate the thirst. We also use water in cooking and cleaning. As pointed out, clean water is very healthy for us, contaminated water is responsible for the death of millions each year.

A lot of people are very happy with this and a few are not. The BBC carried an article about this resolution and mentions some of the disagreement a few nations have with it. One of the nations with a problem is Canada. An article in the National Post gives some of the concerns. Part of the concern has to do with Canada's sovereign right to control its own supply of clean water. We all know that Canada has a fair percentage of clean water and there has been pressure put on the government, every so often to share it with those in need, in particular the US. However, for the Americans, the water would not be for the people, it will be for the agribusiness, and to fill the pools of people living in Arizona. Yes, that might be a slight exaggeration. The Post goes at length to quote from Maude Barlow. She says, at the end of the article:
All countries, whether they’re water-rich or water-poor are going to have to start building plans to protect their water. Even if you live in a country with a lot of water, there are going to be water refugees really soon and there’s not going to be anywhere in the world where there isn’t a demand on the dwindling water supplies.

One might ask if she's being hypocritical, since she doesn't want to share our water with anyone, especially the US. I wonder if anyone will remind her of this fact. Still, its not delivery, it cleaning up and providing what is there.

Two realizations, one the planet got more people and water is a finite resource. It is the challenge of all people to make water clean and to use it properly. I mentioned the pool owners in Arizona, I could easily have said 'Ontario'. This is, of course, like the old 'eat your food because people in Africa are starving'. Having a pool is not going to affect those in Africa, for example. What is needed is research and creativity to make the water that is available fit for human existence. As well, hopefully this means, water won't be subject to the privatization practices of the World Bank and IMF. You might recall that a number of years ago pressure was put on many of the developing world to privatize things such as water in order to qualify for loans. Now, hopefully, this will be the right of governments to make water available to its people.

How now can we make this the reality. It is easy to dismiss it, like everything else that comes from the United Naions. But if we forget that bias for a moment, we see the call to all of humanity, to the citizens of the planet, to ensure all do have access to clean water.

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