UN Recognizes Access to Clean Water as a Human Right

UN Recognizes Access to Clean Water as a Human Right

NEW YORK, New York, July 29, 2010 (ENS) – Access to clean, safe drinking water is now an official basic human right everywhere in the world, like the rights to life, health, food and adequate housing. The water rights resolution was approved late Wednesday by the United Nations General Assembly, not unanimously, but without opposition.

Safe and clean drinking water and sanitation is a human right essential to the full enjoyment of life and all other human rights, the United Nations General Assembly declared Wednesday, voting to expand the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to include the right to clean water and sanitation.

The 192-member Assembly called on United Nations member states and international organizations to offer funding, technology and other resources to help poorer countries scale up their efforts to provide clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for everyone.

Introduced by Bolivia, the resolution received 122 votes in favor and zero votes against, while 41 countries abstained from voting.

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, 40 percent of the global population, do not have access to basic sanitation. About 1.5 million children under the age of five die each year because of water-related and sanitation-related diseases.

Children draw water from a public well, Uganda, September 2009. (Photo by African Well Fund)

“Diarrhea is the second most important cause of the death of children below the age of five,” said Pablo Solon, Bolivia’s ambassador to the United Nations, introducing the resolution. “The lack of access to drinking water kills more children than AIDS, malaria and measles combined.”

The United States was one of the 41 countries that abstained from voting on this measure – not because the U.S. does not support the universal right to water, but because the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva is working on the issue in a better way, said John Sammis, U.S. deputy representative to the Economic and Social Council.

“This resolution describes a right to water and sanitation in a way that is not reflective of existing international law; as there is no “right to water and sanitation” in an international legal sense as described by this resolution,” Sammis said.

“The United States regrets that this resolution diverts us from the serious international efforts underway to promote greater coordination and cooperation on water and sanitation issues,” said Sammis.

“This resolution attempts to take a short-cut around the serious work of formulating, articulating and upholding universal rights,” he said. “It was not drafted in a transparent, inclusive manner, and the legal implications of a declared right to water have not yet been carefully and fully considered in this body or in Geneva.”

Unlike some, Germany views the text not as a threat to the European Union-led “Geneva process” on water and sanitation, but rather as another component of that process, said Ambassador Peter Wittig.

Women carry water through a desert of stone chips in Madhya Pradesh, India. May 2010. (Photo by Rajib Singha)

At the same time, Germany would have preferred that the text include more language proposed by the European Union, he said. It nevertheless included important elements of the work going on within the Human Rights Council and that of the Independent Expert on the subject. Germany invited delegations to support and participate actively in the Geneva process in order fully to understand the right to water and sanitation.

The General Assembly resolution welcomes the UN Human Rights Council’s request that Catarina de Albuquerque, the UN Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation, report annually to the General Assembly.

De Albuquerque’s report will focus on the principal challenges to achieving the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation, as well as on progress towards the relevant Millennium Development Goals.

The Millennium Development Goals, a series of targets for reducing social and economic ills by 2015, includes the goals of halving the proportion of people who cannot reach or afford safe drinking water and halving the number who do not have basic sanitation.

Private water companies support the resolution to enshrine access to clean water and sanitation as a human right, according to AquaFed, the International Federation of Private Water Operators, representing 300 water companies serving hundreds of millions of people in 40 countries.

“For private water operators, this global recognition is an important milestone. Our members and our Federation have been working actively with the United Nations and many other stakeholders for a decade to ensure that the Right to Water and Sanitation is recognized, that it is practical and can be implemented,” said AquaFed President Gerard Payen.

“Access to safe clean water and sanitation is truly vital,” Payen said. “It is essential for life and necessary for health, education, dignity, gender equality, employment, social and economic development and quality of life.”

“The UN Member States have now to work on the implementation of this human right,” said Payen. “They have to empower appropriate public authorities, clarify their obligations and make sure that they mandate capable field operators to make this right effective for people.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.

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