THE HUMAN RIGHT TO WATER
The human right to water is the universal right to life and dignity, and the condition for the respect of other human rights
WHAT IS THE HUMAN RIGHT TO WATER
After a ten years long citizens mobilization all over the world, the UN finally recognized in 2010 that water and sanitation are human rights
Recognizing that water is a human right means assuring that all human beings have a right to be guaranteed the access to water in sufficient quantity and quality to meet the basic human needs, such as drinking, hygiene, food and sanitation. The UN Resolutions also acknowledged that the human right to water is an indispensable condition for other human rights. Water is recognized as a specific, autonomous and universal right.
Being universal, the human right to water applies to all without discrimination, ensure social justice and human dignity, and provides each one with the possibility of legal claims against violations of the right.
Inevitably, the human right to water also includes collection, transport, treatment of water for domestic use, through the most appropriate systems in order to return it to the natural cycle as clean as possible.
The human right to water also means recognizing the priority of human needs over other uses of water for the economy, and submitting all use of water to a sustainable management, that is ethical, eco-systemic, based on the recognition of the human right to water and of water as a natural resource to be preserved for future generations.
THE HUMAN RIGHT TO WATER IS NOT IMPLEMENTED
Despite the UN Resolutions establishing the human right to water and sanitation, and the UN “Water Decade 2005-2015”, no State today – not even the ones that have recognized the human right to water in their Constitution or in national laws – is ready to ensure to all citizens free access to a minimum quantity of safe water for nutrition and sanitation, as required for a universal human right.
Conversely, the World Health Organization and UNICEF in their joint 2015 Report declare that more than 663 million people still lack access to safe drinking water, and over 2.5 billion people have no access to basic sanitation, one of the main causes of water contamination and water related diseases.
The 2013 Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to water and sanitation reports that:
- 5 million children still die before 5;
- 443 million of school-days are lost because of illnesses related to poor water and sanitation;
- In all countries the number of people unable to pay water bills grows;
- Climate refugees are expected to reach up to 250 million by 2050;
- Water consumption has doubled over the last Century;
- In the last 50 years available water has decreased of ¾ in Africa and of 2/3 in Asia;
- 30 % of global population is expected to live in critical conditions by 2030;
- By 2050, global demand of water will increase of 85%.
Such perspectives can only dramatically worsen due to climate change, ecosystem destruction and growing pollution of groundwater.
THE CURRENT CONTEXT OF THE HUMAN RIGHT TO WATER
Six years after the UN Resolutions, States parties have shown no political will to concretely realize the human right to water for all citizens.
Since then, only 40 States (15 in Latin America, 14 in Africa, 5 in Asia, 4 in Europe, 2 in Middle East) have introduced the human right to water in their Constitution, or have adopted national laws respecting the human right to water; however they have not established precise norms for actually guaranteeing the human right.
The discretionary power left to States is likely to affect the universal character of the human right to water.
And yet, international human rights instruments, such as Human Rights Council Resolutions 7/22 (2008), 12/8 (2009) and particularly 15/9 (2010), establish that “States have the primary responsibility to ensure the full realization of all human rights”, and that “delegation of the delivery of safe drinking water and sanitation services to a third party does not exempt the State from its human rights obligations”
Meantime, we see that the New Agenda 2030 UN agenda for sustainable development does not include guaranteeing the human right to water as a goal of sustainable development itself, rather sets the goal (6.1) as “ensuring equitable and universal access to water at an affordable price.”
Also the current UN Special Rapporteur in his 2015 First Report stresses economic accessibility as the crucial feature for realizing the human right to water. Its implementation depends upon the access to service “at an affordable price”, while State responsibility only consists in guaranteeing that price is affordable.
Equally oriented towards economic accessibility is a Draft on the realization of the human right presented by a group of States to the III Commission and adopted by General Assembly Resolution 70/169 last December 2015. aimed at separating water and sanitation as two different human rights. Meantime, the UN and the World Bank have launched the creation of a Group of High Level Experts that should replace UNSGAB on the implementation of Objective 6 of the post-2015 Agenda.
Accordingly, the current context of the human right to water and sanitation is caught in a dominant approach focused on an “affordable price” and an “efficient management” as main regulations of the human right.
Safe drinking water and sanitation, that is the right to life, are indeed acknowledged as fundamental human rights, however could only be claimed through an equitable price!