Fighting for the right to water

The UN General Assembly passed a resolution yesterday asserting the right to water and sanitation as a basic human right. For most of us, that seems to be common sense, something taken for granted.

So why is this UN resolution so important? The debate has been going for many years as in the original United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) there is no specific mention of water or sanitation. This is assumed to be because it was seen as a precondition for other human rights, and therefore did not need to be included.

However, it is evident that this is an issue that needs to be highlighted. With climate change, threats of wars over water and the fact that millions of people still lack access to clean water and sanitation, it is an issue that cannot be sidelined any longer.

The resolution passed yesterday was by no means unanimous. The abstention by some may seem unreasonable, but as a non-binding resolution it expressed the overwhelming support from countries across the world for water and sanitation to be seen as a basic human right. However, it is far from being set in stone as a formal human right, awaiting an independent report on the issue due to be presented to the  UN Human Rights Council next year.

I often take for granted the gift of clean running water, and forget how landmark resolutions like this symbolize a change in lifestyle and health for millions of people worldwide. I leave you with some thought-provoking statistics.

  • In 1998 the equivalent of $11 billion was spent on ice-cream in Europe. To provide universal access to clean water and sanitation would have cost $9 billion.
  • Some 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation.
  • 1.8 billion people who have access to a water source within 1 kilometre (but not in their house or yard) consume around 20 litres a day. In the UK, the average person uses more than 50 litres of water a day flushing toilets (where average daily water usage is about 150 litres a day).

Statistics taken from here.

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Published in: on July 29, 2010 at 11:51 am  Leave a Comment  
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A Five Year Anniversary

Five years ago today I had just returned from an amazing weekend up in Edinburgh. I joined hundreds of thousands of others for the Make Poverty History rally, campaigning for a radical change in global politics to highlight key issues such as trade, aid, debt and HIV/AIDS affecting developing countries.

 Five years later, the white wristband I wore is gathering dust at the back of my cupboard, but the issues remain as pertinent as ever.

 Whilst the Make Poverty History Campaign disbanded in 2006, the coalition of organisations involved still remains committed to fighting global poverty.

 There have been many successes from the campaign; more and better quality aid has been given to developing countries allowing governments to tackle poverty more effectively. Education has been prioritised with 33 million more children worldwide now able to attend school, and antiretroviral drugs are more widely available, tackling the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Confronting the underlying injustices in trade and debt systems has seen debt burdens cancelled for 20 countries and the campaign for fair-trade has become more than just a fad.

 Yet challenges remain, targets are missed, and new crises arise. The financial downturn has impacted heavily upon developing countries, and climate change affects the poorest and most vulnerable.

 Make Poverty History inspired many and created a momentum for demanding radical change. The problems may seem insurmountable but change is possible. Poverty is not, and should not be seen as inevitable.

 “Above all, making poverty history is about supporting developing countries to make their own choices in the best interests of their people. It is about helping, not hindering.”

Jenny Ricks: ActionAid

Published in: on July 6, 2010 at 3:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Let them eat cake…

The DRC celebrated 50 years of independence this week, with foreign dignitaries and the UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon gracing the shores of the Congo River with their presence.

Yet despite all these celebrations, the country is still torn apart by violence, and insecurity has forced many to flee from their homes. International peacekeeping forces MONUC struggle to maintain control, lacking essential resources.

It is not just rebel groups that are feared, but the government forces are regarded with apprehension, with soldiers accused of perpetrating crimes against civilians; violent attack, looting and rape.

For those who have fled, there is little hope of returning home to their villages, now associated with violent attack and terrifying memories.

President Kabila is determined to oust the international peacekeeping forces, but this threatens to exacerbate the insecurity in the already unstable country. Promises of peace seem to be merely daydreams.

Few Congolese will be celebrating independence in lavish security as the president has this week. There will be no cake for the displaced and poverty-stricken. Their celebrations may not be of winning independence from their colonial oppressors, but instead a thankfulness that they have survived (unlike millions of others – 5.4m have died in the violence since 1998).

The Congolese have demonstrated an admirable resilience over the years, clinging to each other in times of desperate need. This is what should be celebrated, their perseverance and endurance despite brutal challenges. This vision of the remarkable strength and courage of humanity is displayed beautifully in a set of photographs ‘From Congo with Love’ by Rankin.