Water is essential to life. While around 70% of the surface of the Earth is covered by water, only about 2.3% is fresh, and this gift of nature is increasingly pressured by growing world population. Greater demand and growing scarcity have prompted an increase in value, and have led to attempts to privatize the supply. The World Bank and the International Monetary fund have promoted this process through stipulations in trade agreements and loan conditions to developing countries. In many cases privatization has led to rising prices and deterioration of water quality.
Worldwide 2 million children die every year because of water-borne diseases (diseases related to unsafe water or lack of water), 885 million people lack clean water, and 2.6 billion people have no access to basic sanitation. According to Population Action International, based upon the UN Medium Population Projections of 1998, more than 2.8 billion people in 48 countries will face water stress or scarcity conditions by 2025. Of these countries, 40 are in West Asia, North Africa or sub-Saharan Africa. Over the next two decades, population increases and growing demand are projected to push all West Asian countries into water scarcity conditions. By 2050, the number of countries facing water stress or scarcity could rise to 54, with a combined population of four billion people – about 40% of projected global population.
On 28 July 2010, the UN General Assembly adopted an historic resolution recognizing the human right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation. Two months later, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a second resolution affirming that water and sanitation are human rights, adding that the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation is derived from the right to an adequate standard of living. Some international human rights treaties are now including specific obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation, among them: the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; International Labor Organization Convention N° 161; the Convention on the Rights of the Child; and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The issues surrounding water and sanitation raise questions about management of this resource, and whether we are using it in sustainable, responsible and ethical ways. The Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva reflects: “Water must be free for sustenance needs. Since nature gives water to us free of cost, buying and selling it for profit violates our inherent right to nature’s gift and denies the poor of their human rights.” While committing ourselves to personal and communal reflection on this topic, we must also find ways to challenge governments to do their part to respect, promote and fulfill the right of all people to safe water and basic sanitation.
Water Wars, Vandana Shiva.
written by Francesca Restifo and Odile Coirier fmm