Water – a Human Right?

by |October 22, 2009

In the world, over one billion people live without access to clean water resources. These people have extremely large death rates to completely preventable, waterborne illnesses. It is estimated that over two million people die every year from preventable waterborne diseases, and a large percentage of those people are children under the age of five. A recent World Health Organization document states that in Africa, people often focus on the number of deaths through wars and AIDS, but the number of people killed through water related illnesses is almost six times larger than wars. Water issues in developing countries are some of the most debilitating and the most important solve.

waterdrop4When actually analyzed, the lack of clean water in developing countries is truly shocking. The average United States citizen uses 180 gallons of water per day, while the average African uses between 10 and 20 gallons of water per day. The water we take for granted when we turn on our faucet is nothing like that of the average Africans – in Africa, most people have to walk hours to reach their water supply, and even then it is muddy and contaminated, something people from developed countries would be uneasy even swimming in. Water is essential to human life – a person can only live a few days without water, yet can live for forty days or longer with only water as sustenance. It is important to determine if water is truly a human right, and if so, how we should go about correcting the situation of people living without clean water resources.

In Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famous “Four Freedoms” speech, which he gave in January of 1941, he mentioned one freedom as the “freedom from want.” This implicitly implies that people have the right to the basic needs for life. It is well known that water is necessary for life –- in the United States people are taught they need to drink eight glasses of water a day, as well as use water for cooking, bathing, watering our lawns, and most importantly, agriculture. If everyone has a right to life, water is clearly a human right.

In the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” a document written and approved by the general assembly of the United Nations, Article 3 clearly states that “everyone has the right to life.” Since there can be no life without a water supply to sustain it, water must be considered a human right. More specifically, Article 25 of the declaration specifically states that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family.” While the list of examples does not specifically state water, water can be considered as part of food, which is specifically mentioned, as well as “other lack of livelihood.” It is a scientific fact that without clean water, human life is not possible.

It is important to distinguish that the human right to water implies that the water must be of potable quality. With the high death rate caused by unclean water, it is clear that people without clean water are being denied their right to life. Contaminated water leads to the deaths of thousands of people from completely preventable diseases. In 2002, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Human Rights officially recognized water as a human right, saying “the right to water clearly falls within the category of guarantees essential for securing an adequate standard of living, particularly since it is one of the most fundamental conditions for survival.” This decision clearly creates the right to clean drinking water as a fundamental human right of our time.

So if the right to clean water is a fundamental human right, what should be done about people who lack clean water resources? Future blogs on this subject will address several different ways that the right to clean water is violated, who is to blame for the violation of this right, and what should be done in the future to create a world where everyone has access to clean water resources.

6 thoughts on “Water – a Human Right?

  1. Meghna Bhattacharjee says:

    It’s definitely a tricky situation and I’m glad you brought it up in this blog. If water is a basic human right (which I believe it is) how can we manage it as that? Treating water as a human right would mean that water management has to be administered on a global level.

    The World Water Council makes a notable attempt is delineating the situation: http://bit.ly/2pCXMj

  2. This is the something we all have to think on….
    Where people getting water very easily don’t know the true value of water.Many people especially in progressive countries still don’t know about the water which they are drinking is safe or not due to that people are always ill in those countries i have just recently seen a documentary on Discovery Channel that in Afghanistan refugee camps people drinking the water which is a waste water for us..& due to that many children & elder getting ill or even death…If any can provide help there please help those people

  3. jay says:

    Water certainly is a basic human right, period. The problem is that water has become such a valuable resource that people feel they can OWN this natural resource; and inevitably they do. That is where the problem lay. Like air, water is a natural resource and it is up to the international community to ensure that it is distributed fairly across the globe. And that, my friends is not likely to happen for many lifetimes to come. In fact, if man can find a way to own and sell air, he will do so.

  4. Cooking Book Clubs says:

    Water is a basic human right, no doubt about it. All humans deserve access to clean water, just as we all deserve access to food and shelter. Unfortunately, the solution has to come from the individual countries the humans live in. Although African countries may be poor and not have access to as much clean water, that is a problem their government must deal with. I agree with the idea of a global water council because it’s a human necessity, but then where would it end? Would there have to be a global council dividing up the food to ration each country equally? The reality is there are rich countries and poor countries, and it’s unfair. Just as there are rich and poor people even in rich countries. There’s Americans right now who have no shelter, food or money… who certainly don’t use 180 gallons of water a day.

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