UN recognizes human right to safe drinking water and sanitation

Photo by Zach Meier

Green Cross

The 3rd Commission of the 64th General Assembly of the United Nations made history today by overwhelmingly adopting the draft resolution proclaiming the Human Right to Safe drinking Water and Sanitation.

I’m such a spoiled American.  Everyday, I turn on the tap and am rewarded with fresh clean water for my drinking, bathing, washing, and sanitation needs.  I have two bathrooms available to me in my home, and anywhere I may venture throughout my day, I can count on finding a restroom.  I don’t even have to think about it!

The resolution that was adopted [July 28] “declares the Right to Safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.”

It also “calls upon States and international organisations to provide Financial resources, capacity building and technology transfer, through international assistance and co-operation, in particular to developing countries, in order to scale up efforts to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all.”  (Emphasis mine)

122 states voted in favor of the resolution, with 41 states abstaining — including the United States, Canada, Israel, Japan, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.  None voted against the resolution (wouldn’t that raise some interesting red flags?).

Why did the U.S. abstain from voting for or against the resolution?

Speaking on behalf of the United States, John Sammis told delegates his country had hoped to negotiate and ultimately join consensus on a text that would uphold and support the international process on water and sanitation currently underway in the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“Instead, we have here a resolution that falls far short of enjoying the unanimous support of member states and may even undermine the work underway in Geneva,” he cautioned.

“This resolution described the right to water and sanitation in a way that is not reflective of existing international law; as there is no ‘right to water and sanitation’ in an international legal sense as described by this resolution,” he said.

In the words of Voltaire, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”  It seems to me that even a toe-hold in recognizing humans rights — food, water, shelter, health care, education* — is a good place to start.  A strong structure needs a sturdy foundation on which to build.

I wonder if all people had their basic human rights respected, this world might be a more peaceful place?  The way I look at it, it doesn’t take anything away from me to make sure we all have a good foundation under us.  From that point, the sky is the limit for humanity.

*My own list of basic human rights

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2 thoughts on “UN recognizes human right to safe drinking water and sanitation

  1. I have a granddaughter who is more concerned about the seals around Massachusetts than she is about human rights. The beasties are so cute and she loves them! The sharks are “eating them alive”.

    • walt, that’s her privilege, because she is just a child. If she’s emphatic towards seals, she’s going to be emphatic towards people. And seals are just so cute and sharks just so evil.

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