About the Right to Water
Water is enshrined in the right to life and dignity, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
However, the right to water is violated daily. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 1.7 billion people still lack access to clean water and 2.3 billion people suffer from water-borne diseases each year.
Water-borne diseases occur due to the inability to provide clean water, but increasingly due to the unaffordable pricing of water. Pre-paid water meters are installed in poor areas to ensure profitable supply and services are cut-off if citizens fall behind on their payments. Privatization of water has only exacerbated the problem.
The Human Right to Water at the UN
In 2002, the United Nations Economic and Social Council adopted water as a right to ensure fair and non-discriminatory access to safe drinking water. The UN General Assembly passed a resolution affirming the right to water and sanitation on July 28, 2010; 122 states voted for the resolution and 41 abstained, including the U.S. No state voted against the resolution. While the General Assembly resolution was not legally binding, it was buttressed two months later when the Human Rights Council passed a similar resolution based on two existing treaties, thus rendering the GA resolution binding. In other words, as the UN itself said in its release, "The right to water and sanitation is a human right, equal to all other human rights, which implies that it is justiciable and enforceable." All governments are now bound by these historic UN resolutions, regardless of how they voted. See what has happened since this resolution passed, and what remains to be done to ensure the human right to water.
UN recognition of the human right to water has always been a necessary but insufficient step toward our goal. With allies on every continent, we continue the pursuit of achieving clean, safe, public and sustainable water for all.
Countries Recognizing the Right to Water
- 1994, Panama: A constitutional amendment recognized the State‚ responsibility to guarantee water for adequate development;
- 1995, Ethiopia: "[P]olicies shall aim to provide all Ethiopians access to [..] clean water;"
- 1995, Uganda: The State is obliged to fulfill fundamental rights to social justice and economic development including clean and safe water;
- 1996, Gambia: "The State shall endeavour to facilitate equal access to clean and safe water;"
- 1996, South Africa: "Everyone has the right to have access to sufficient food and water;"
- 2004, Uruguay: Uruguayans approved a constitutional amendment by popular vote guaranteeing the right to water;
- 2005, Colombia: Article 366 establishes the state’s obligation to satisfy unmet needs in health, education, and water;
- 2005, DRC: Article 48 establishes a citizen’s right to drinking water;
- 2008, Ecuador: Section One establishes the right to water.
Countries working towards recognizing the right to water: Belgium, France, Guatemala, and Kenya.