I recently had the opportunity to attend a conference in Syracuse, NY on the Right to Water.  While I was there to present my work on women and water, I learned a lot about water issues, in particular the idea of the  right to water being a human right.  Most people would agree that water is essential to life (I’m not sure there is anyone who would dispute that specific fact) and that access to clean, safe, water is important for the quality of life.  Where this conversation gets interesting is in the discussion about the right to water as a human right.  Human rights are heavily debated and contested throughout the world, from country to country, and can include any kind of bias like racism, classism, sexism, etc.

Quick example: Rocio Magana presented her work on the criminalization of water at the conference. This is a summary of her work.  Along the border between Mexico and the United States, many migrants have to pass through the Sonora Desert.  Humanitarian groups have been placing gallon water jugs at various points in the desert (part of which is a national park) and have been charged with littering.  This is the final attempt to find a charge that would stick so that the groups would no longer place water in the desert.  Without the water, the migrants die of dehydration, heat stroke and other heat related illnesses.

Is the right to water a human right? And if so, who deserves that human right and who decides who deserves that right? These are just some of the many questions that really struck me while I was at the conference, and I’m sure there will be many more questions now that I am home!