The United Nations General Assembly declared in July 2010 that access to clean water and sanitation is an essential human right, calling on countries and organizations to help provide access for the 884 million people currently without safe drinking water and the more than 2.6 billion people without basic sanitation.
In February 2011, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque, ofﬁcially visited the United States to examine the extent to which the federal government met its obligations to respect, protect and fulﬁll the right to safe drinking water and sanitation. Her investigation focused on nondiscrimination and equality and identiﬁed several populations that continue to face discrimination, including homeless people, Native Americans and other marginalized groups.The United States can be considered largely water rich relative to many other countries, and its citizens enjoy near-universal access to safe water and sanitation. Yet some U.S. communities continue to face systemic violations of this human right — often those in poor, minority or rural locations. In recent years, new threats have emerged, particularly in communities where the oil and gas industry is using the process of hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas deposits, and in communities where groundwater is being mined for bottling, which can lead to shortages in household water supplies.
As stressed in the Special Rapporteur’s investigation, the U.S. government should focus on the process and not just the outcome of the right to safe drinking water and sanitation by targeting obligations to respect, protect and fulﬁll. This helps to prioritize accountability and reduce gray areas where vulnerable populations are denied rights.