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  Global Views
Water Is a Fundamental Human Right
By Bobby Ramakant
Asia Correspondent
A water resource

When "Jal Adhikar Yatra" (March for Right to Water, Varanasi to Delhi, September 10 - October 5, 2006) began, I was overwhelmed with information on Right to Water, a right, I had taken granted for, by the virtue of my birth and upbringing. But not everyone in India is so fortunate. Thousands of villagers who have been deprived of having access to their own water resources because big industries have siphoned away huge quantities of ground water, were marching their way to Delhi for a Jal Satyagrah movement.

At the beginning of this 21st century, the World Health Organization estimated that of the world's 6 billion people, at least 1.1 billion people, lack access to safe drinking-water and 2.4 billion people were living without access to sanitation systems. An estimated 14 to 30 thousand people, mostly young and elderly, die everyday from avoidable water-related diseases (e.g. diarrhoeal diseases). The lives of these people who are among the poorest on our planet are often devastated by this deprivation, which impedes the enjoyment of health and other human rights. Water is a limited natural resource and fundamental for life and health.

"The human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses. An adequate amount of safe water is necessary to prevent death from dehydration, reduce the risk of water-related disease and provide for consumption, cooking, personal and domestic hygienic requirements" is what United Nations' Human Rights statement reads on Right to Water (adapted on November 26, 2002). All member countries including India, is supposed to respect, protect and fulfil this human right to water of its citizens.

"Access to safe water is a fundamental Human need and therefore a basic human right" said UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. "In this new century, water, its sanitation, and its equitable distribution, pose great social challenges for our world. We need to safeguard the global supply of healthy water and to ensure that everyone has access to it." further said Kofi Annan.

Moreover numerous fundamental human rights can not be fully realized without water. For example, without water, no life can be sustained, and therefore Right to Life can never be respected, protected or fulfilled unless we stop ignoring right to water. Similarly water being essential for farming and cooking, right to food can't be enjoyed unless we recognize the right to water. Almost 70% of all mobilised freshwater is used for agriculture and it is estimated that more than one third of global food production is based on irrigation.

Similarly Right to self-determination also includes the right of all people to manage their own resources and is thus connected to a right to water. Right to adequate standard of living, also cannot be realized without a secure access to water. Right to housing too, is defined as the right to adequate housing which should have sustainable access to natural and common resources, safe drinking water, sanitation and washing facilities. Likewise Right to education is compromised because lack of proper supply of water forces children to walk long distances, often several times a day - thus missing school - to provide their families with water. Right to take part in cultural life also can't be fulfilled unless right to water is duly respected and protected. The destruction, expropriation or pollution of water-related cultural sites represents a failure to take adequate steps to safeguard the cultural identity of various ethnic groups.

So, the right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity.

The right to water is implicitly recognized by several international legal documents. However, it's not yet implemented in practice because of an absence of political will, frequently due to a difficult perception of what this right means concretely. Indeed this right has different meanings in countries where almost all have access to water and in countries where access is far from generalized.

At the time when the original Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drawn up, it was assumed that all people would have access to safe water, as it is essential to all life. Water like air is so fundamental to preserving a right to life that explicit recognition was thought to be unnecessary, and thus little attention has been given to the question of whether there is a right to water. Consequently water was never named as a human right before November 26, 2002.

Explicit reference to the Right to Water has been made in two core international UN human rights treaties which are legally binding upon all states that have signed them:

- the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW, 1979),

- the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989),

as well in one regional treaty: the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990). The Geneva Conventions (1949, 1977) guarantee the protection of this right during armed conflict.

Article 14 (2) of The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, 1979) states that State parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in rural areas in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, that they participate in and benefit from rural development and, in particular, shall ensure to women the right: To enjoy adequate living conditions, particularly in relation to housing, sanitation, electricity and water supply, transport and communication.

In the Millennium Declaration, 2000, delivered at the close of the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in New York, 150 heads of state and government pledged to "halve, by the year 2015... the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water."The Johannesburg Declaration adopted at the World Summit of Sustainable Development in September 2002 also set a new target of halving the proportion of people who do not have access to basic sanitation by 2015.

Right to Water contains both:

1. Freedoms, such as the right to be free from interference through, for example, arbitrary disconnections or the contamination of water supplies, and

2. Entitlements, including the right to a system of water supply and management that provides equality of opportunity for people to enjoy the right to water

As natural rights, water rights are usufructuary rights (water can be used but not owned). People have a right to life and the resources that sustain it, such as water. The necessity of water to life is why, under customary laws, the right to water has been accepted as a natural, social fact.

That is why governments and corporations cannot alienate people of their water rights. Water rights come from nature and creation. They flow from the laws of nature, not from the rules of the market.



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Bobby Ramakant, who serves as The Seoul Times' Asia correspondent, is a member of NATT, Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals, and edits Weekly MONiTOR series, reporting violations of tobacco control policies as a senior public health and development journalist. He writes for newspapers in 11 countries and can be reached at bobbyramakant@yahoo.com)

 

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