Water – a Human Right?
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.
When 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.