Best news in a long time: Water declared a basic human right

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At Last, a Human Right to Water

Good news for thirsty people around the globe: The UN affirms the right to safe and clean drinking water.

A remarkable piece of water history should have been headline news everywhere this week. After over a decade of grassroots organizing and lobbying, the global water justice movement achieved a significant victory when the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to affirm “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.” The resolution—put forward by Bolivia and co-sponsored by 35 states—passed overwhelmingly with 122 states voting in favor and 41 abstaining. Embarrassed to go on record against the right to this fundamental liquid, not one country voted against it.

“Every now and then, the human species advances somewhat in our evolution, and today was one of those advances,” said Maude Barlow, former senior advisor on water to the president of the UN General Assembly and current national chairwoman of the Council of Canadians and the Washington, D.C.-based Food and Water Watch. “We’re absolutely thrilled. This is a historic day. I think every now and then, the human species advances somewhat in our evolution, and today was one of those advances.”

The Universal Declaration on Human Rights, approved in 1948, did not specifically recognize a right to water. But in recent decades, worsening water scarcity and contamination, aggravated by global climate change, has made a resolution on water rights more urgent, said advocates.

Political abstentions

“It was a great honor to be present as the UN General Assembly took this historic step forward in the struggle for a just world,” said Barlow. “It is sad however, that Canada chose not to participate in this important moment in history.”

The United States also abstained in the vote….

What a difference a word makes

Pressures to weaken the resolution were considerable. Inserting the word “access” to water and sanitation was a point of debate. For diplomats, ensuring “access” would mean their governments would only have to guarantee that water is available for purchase, not that it is a fundamental right even for those who can’t afford it. That the resolution did not stop at “access” makes it more powerful. “It means governments have to provide the water even if people cannot pay for it… it’s an important distinction,” Barlow said.

The final resolution “calls upon States and international organizations to provide financial resources, capacity-building and technology transfer, through international assistance and co-operation, in particular to developing countries, in order to scale up efforts to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all.”

Read the rest of the article at yesmagazine.org. As exciting as this is, I am off to figure out why the US abstained in the vote… In the meantime, if you’d like to know more about why this is such a historic step, I recommend the films Tapped, FLOW and Blue Gold. Bottoms up!

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