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.

Published in: on July 29, 2010 at 11:51 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Sound of Silence

A coalition of human rights groups are calling for the re-evaluation of the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo as it is costing the lives of thousands of civilians.

The UN forces (MONUC) have joined with Conglolese government forces in operations seeking to disarm Hutu rebels in the region of north Kivu that borders Rwanda. Since January (2009), over an thousand rebels have been successfully disarmed.

However, this has come at a cost. The coalition estimates that for every rebel disarmed during the conflict:

–          One civilian has been killed

–          Seven women and girls have been raped

–          Six houses have been burned and destroyed

–          900,000 people have been forced to flee their homes

The rebels are deliberately targeting civilians in retaliation to the government’s military operations, aggravating the violence and forcing thousands to flee their homes. However, the government forces are not totally innocent either, responsible for rapes, looting and arbitrary arrests. Moreover, the government have hastily drawn in commanders with a history of human rights abuses in order to continue the military manoeuvres.

The coalition is calling upon the UN to take action and address the situation in the DRC in a meeting (the Great Lakes Contact Group) in Washington later this week. There needs to be greater protection for civilians and UN peacekeepers in the area must work with government forces to secure their safety. Yet, additional UN forces requested in 2008 are only just arriving in the area, and vital resources such as helicopters and intelligence support are still conspicuously absent.

The UN has already heavily invested in this conflict, but urgent action needs to be taken to ensure the protection of civilians caught up in the struggle.

“With an investment this big, the UN has clout and should not remain silent when abuses occur” – Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Published in: on October 15, 2009 at 1:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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