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Good news!!!  Just yesterday, the UN passes a resolution to make the right to water and sanitation a human right.  As I mentioned in my last post on the subject, this means that not having access to clean water and/or sanitation can be considered to be a violation of human rights — something that requires international action according to the UN Declaration on Human Rights.

According to Food and Water Watch, 122 states in the UN voted in favor of the resolution, and 41 abstained from voting on it.

The bad news in this, is that the US abstained from the vote.  Water rights are still not a priority issue for the US, perhaps because it is something so removed from our experience.  Whatever the reason is, there needs to be more work done on this issue to ensure that the next time water rights come up in the UN, the US does not abstain from the vote.

This resolution is non-binding, meaning that states are not required to take action yet.  However, this movement is an important first step in making a binding resolution concerning the right to water and sanitation.  9 states have already included the right to water in their constitution.  This is a growing movement, one that is essential to development, to human rights, to the environment, and to creating a more just and sustainable world.  So while the passing of this resolution is just a small step in the long run, it is a tremendous small step that can lead to so much more!

Here’s a link from a BBC article that tells a little bit more about the resolution.

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It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I love water.  My master’s thesis is centering around women and water, and I could talk about the benefits of keeping water public for days.  For these reason, I am truly excited about the fact that the right to water and sanitation is being considered by the UN as an addition to the Declaration of Human Rights.

Water is necessary for life — not only for the physical necessity of keeping hydrated, but also for the the daily tasks like cooking, cleaning, and sanitation.   Access to clean water and sanitation can prevent fatal diseases that have plagued the developing world for years and survive only in memory in the developed world.

In the recent decades, water has been increasingly privatized, making it difficult for those not in power to have access to clean water.  In South Africa, the private companies charge way about the income level of the poor; in other countries the water systems are not maintained, leaving broken pipes and pumps that don’t work.  These situations force the people to go back to drinking the dirty water that causes diseases like dysentery or cholera.  Even in the US, our water systems are in danger of being privatized by corporations looking to make a profit (or take the bottled water industry…selling our water back to us in little plastic bottles).

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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!

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