Thursday, 29 July 2010

A long time coming

Today, a goal that thousands of individuals and NGOs have campaigned on for decades, came one step closer to reality: the United Nations General Assembly finally recognised that access to clean water and sanitation is a human right.

It’s been a long time coming and whilst politicians around the world dithered and split hairs millions of lives have been lost. The statistics speak for themselves – 884 million people have no clean drinking water and 2.6 billion have no basic sanitation.

It is worth pausing for a minute and remembering that every single one of those numbers represents a human life. Imagine watching a child die of cholera or diarrhoea –for most the very thought is too horrific to bear. But every single day four thousand children die of diseases related to inadequate water or sanitation. They scream out in thirst, waste away and spend their last hours in agonising pain. All because of something we take for granted.

That’s a disgrace.

Water Aid, an excellent UK based charity dedicated to providing clean water and sanitation, point out that it costs just £15 person. So how can the developed world have failed so badly so far?

We can draw hope from today’s resolution and from the upcoming report on water to the UN Human Rights Council in October 2011. This could mark the beginning of the end of this abhorrent situation.

However, there remains much to be done. Whilst the Human Rights Council discussion may lead to binding measures, this resolution currently places no obligations on states. Furthermore a shocking 41 states –including the UK and USA- refused to vote in favour of it. The Obama administration claims that it may undermine later, more robust agreements- but this seems little more than a weak excuse and comes with no explanation as to why that would be the case. Meanwhile Cameron’s government has barely sought to justify its frankly inexcusable position.

In truth such reluctance, at least in part, is down to self interest. At a time of economic hardship, with cutbacks needed at home, certain governments will fear that accepting water and sanitation as a human right will obligate them to make domestically unpopular increases to aid budgets.

This is unacceptable.

Times may be hard for us, but nowhere near as hard as they are for the millions drinking filthy water until their organs fail – simply because they lack the basic facilities to which they are entitled.

We all have a duty to pressure our governments and support groups such as Water Aid, to make sure that the fundamental right of clean water and sanitation is realised.
For everyone.

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