Posted by: wfpdc | August 11, 2011

One Year Anniversary: Water Declared Human Right

The United Nations

The UN Declares Water Human Right, 1 Year Later

As the United Nations celebrates the one year anniversary (August 3, 2011) of their declaration of water as a basic human right, the debate continues over what exactly that phrase means. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon triggered controversy with this statement:

“Let us be clear,” he asserted, “a right to water and sanitation does not mean that water should be free.”

The key, he continued, is to make water affordable and available, but not to remove the market entirely.

If the rich pay less per unit of water than the poor, this is a violation of the poor’s human right to water. If water is used to fill swimming pools to the extent that it is no longer available, or the cost increases too high, for the poor to have access, this is a violation of their human right to water. But, declaring water a human right does not declare it cost-free.

Thalif Deen’s article marking the 1 year anniversary provides a clear overview of the debate between the need for increased water access for the poor, and the benefits and challenges of continuing water privatization. Access it here.

One year ago, following the UN declaration, CEO of Water For People Ned Breslin spoke with Rachel Cernansky of Planet to answer the question: What does making water a basic human right mean in practicality? In response to whether or not making water free will guarantee the right Mr. Breslin replied:

“The concept of free access to water undermines issues of sustainability. ‘Rights will only be realized if the delivery of water is sustained over time. Otherwise it’s a meaningless right,’ Breslin said, adding that the world’s experience with free water has been disastrous because pipes erode, systems break down, and no one is there to fix them. Whether there will or should be a cap on costs for citizens in developing countries (or anywhere) is a question that has to be worked out, but generally speaking, costs have to be ‘linked’ to the technologies that are supplying the water.”
Read the full article with more analysis from Water For People here.


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