U.N. Vote on Water, Sanitation Rights

The resolution to act on the world's "most violated human right."
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On July 28, after years of grassroots pressure, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution supporting the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation. The vote was 122 in favor, none opposed, and 41 abstentions.

55 sol water rights

Children gather water from a pond sand filter in Bangladesh.

Photo courtesy of The Uncultured Project

Nearly one billion people have no access to safe drinking water and 2.6 billion live without proper sanitation. Every 8 seconds a child dies from a preventable water-borne disease. Maude Barlow, former senior advisor on water to the president of the United Nations General Assembly, describes access to clean water as the “most violated human right.”

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, did not explicitly recognize the human right to water. As climate change aggravates water scarcity and contamination, advocates say that a specific resolution on water is essential.

The 41 abstaining countries included the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

Anil Naidoo of the Blue Planet Project said “We are heartened by grassroots support for the resolution.” Naidoo observed that the wealthier countries who withheld support tend to consume more water per capita than poorer ones, that they fear being forced to share their water resources, and assume providing sanitation is simply too difficult. He said that wealthier countries are also home to transnational, for-profit water companies that oppose regulation.

—Daniel Moss wrote this article for A Resilient Community, the Fall 2010 issue of YES! Magazine. Daniel is coordinator of Our Water Commons.


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