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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Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink

I saw an impressive contemporary dance show last night, a piece called Scattered, performed by Motionhouse. The piece was formed around the theme of water, moving north to south across the globe, from ice in the arctic, to the desert and even a section representing the depths of the ocean. It combined dynamic dance moves, aerial acrobatics, and stunning visual projections onto a carefully curved stage that looked like a wave. It was an inspiring performance, which left me reflecting on the vital role water plays in our everyday life.

I too often take the supply of water for granted. Turning on the tap, the shower, even flushing the toilet are all actions I hardly give a second thought. Yet for many, a clean reliable source of water is hard to find. The section in the dance show representing the desert portrayed one dancer in the centre of the stage, parched in the heat, surrounded by the others all with bottles of water, indifferent to her plight until she collapses from exhaustion and dehydration. 

Without water, the simplest of tasks becomes a huge obstacle. Any time there is a water cut, life suddenly gets more difficult. For some, accessing a clean and safe water supply is just too expensive.  The urban poor, with approximately 1 billion living in slums across the globe are often denied access to basic services, with utility providers directing their supply to the wealthier areas. WaterAid estimates that it costs 37% of a person’s annual income to connect to the water supply, a prohibitive sum for many.

The 15th African International Water Congress is currently underway this week, taking place in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, focusing on perspectives facing energy challenges and climate change. The hope is that this international congress will begin to successfully tackle some of these perceptions, and advocate for improved access to services for the poor. Water is life-giving and life-sustaining, an issue that cannot and must not be ignored.