From El Alto to Cochabamba, Detroit to Dar Es Salaam, A World Without Water documents the human costs of water privatisation and the systemic denial of access to safe drinking water through its commodification. According to the World Health Organisation, 1.1 billion people has no access to any type of improved drinking source of water, 2.6 billion people lack even a simple ‘improved’ latrine, and, as a direct consequence, 1.6 million people die every year from diarrhoeal diseases (90% of these are children under 5).
Several weeks ago, the UN Human Rights Council passed a historic resolution re-affirming the July 2010 UN General Assembly resolution, tabled by Bolivia’s Evo Morales, which recognises “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right” and that States now have the primary responsibility under international law to ensure its full realisation.
Yet, just weeks following Nick Clegg’s heartfelt declaration of Britain’s commitment to the MDGs at the New York summit in September, the UK government has officially “disassociated” itself from the UNHRC resolution, “on the grounds that there is no international agreement on what the right comprises and that there is no clear internationally agreed definition of sanitation“. This comes in the wake of Britain’s abstention from the earlier UNGA resolution vote. The refusal of the British government to recognise access to water and sanitation as a human right was “deplored” by Amnesty International and described by the Freshwater Action Network as “no less than shocking”.
The cynicism of the new UK government knows few bounds, however. The International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell has joined today’s Blog Action Day, affirming his personal commitment to the issue following a trip to Ethiopia to witness the plight of depraved Africans “through their own eyes”.
But Mitchell should bear in mind that “tackling poverty means promoting human rights, not just stealing its language”, as Steve Cockburn puts it. “Joining the rest of the world in legally recognising the human right to water and sanitation, and making it real, would be a good first step.”