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The Right To Access Clean Water Environmental Sciences Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 1904 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Human rights ensure that the basic needs of a human are provided equally to all individuals regardless of monetary stature, race, religion or discrimination of any sort. It works to maintain that both, the bearer and the recipient play an active role in this providence. In the 21st century Human Rights is becoming much more important and playing an additional vital role as further needs are being labelled as a right that should be enjoyed and exercised by all individuals. One such human right is the right to access clean water.

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There are basic human rights that have often been recognized, food, healthcare, etc. So it should come to no surprise that Water is also a basic human right. Water is, in our eyes, a fundamental human necessity as there is no life without water. Yet, the situation remains that not every human being on this other is gifted with access to clean water. Moreover, the lack of clean water is transforming from a limitation to an enormous threat.

Definition of terms

Human Rights Council –

The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system made up of 47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe.


Groundwater is water that is found underground in the cracks and spaces in soil, sand and rock. It is an important source of water for consumption.

Low income groups

Individuals with access to a low income in comparison with the average income of the general population in an area. Income is the amount of money an individual earns in a certain time period.


Inadequate means that a certain factor is unfit for usage or consumption. It does not fulfil the needs of a task or individual.

Millennium Development Goals

The MDGs are eight goals that were formed at the Millennium Summit in 2000 and aim to bringing international development. All member nations of the UN have agreed to meet these goals by the year 2015.


The background to this issue on the agenda lies in the simple fact that 900 million people worldwide don’t have access to clean water. A basic need of the human body; lying out of reach for all these people is not a matter that the UN would leave unaddressed. The underlying problem that causes this issue of lack of clean water is with the unequal distribution of water and poverty. Often, low income groups, those living in extreme poverty and people living in rural areas cannot afford a clean water supply and make do with unreliable water sources.

Over 3.4 million people die every year from causes related to water, sanitation and hygiene and 99 percent of these deaths occur in the developing world. Out of just over 7 billion people on this planet, more than 894 million don’t have access to improved water sources; which is about one in nine people. As rivers dry up, lakes shrink and groundwater reserves get depleted, that figure will rise to 3 billion in 2025, especially in parts of Asia and Africa. These facts are just the tip of the iceberg as the ongoing issue stems into many other situations that the UN has to face and its roots must be uncovered by members of the UN so that the access to clean water is no longer a demand, but a provision.

Causes of the Lack of Clean Water

The fact remains that there is indeed enough water on Earth for the need of the world population. Thereby the problem lies in the unequal distribution of water and poverty around the globe.

Inequality of Distribution

Lack of transportation systems and systems to obtain water, such as harvesting rainwater and extracting groundwater as well as in some cases not restricting people’s access to water has left clean water in scarcity. When the extraction of groundwater becomes excessive (for industrial and agricultural use), its availability at domestic households is poorly affected.


Economic condition is another factor with access to clean water. Developing countries such as India have a number of rural areas where there is an inadequate water supply. Individuals have to usually travel long distances to get water from rather unsafe sources. Even in Developed nations such as the USA, low income groups typically live in places that are not provided with adequate water supply options. For example, impoverished slum dwellers in Angola draw drinking water from the local river where their sewage is dumped. Farmers on the lower reaches of the Colorado River struggle because water has been diverted to cities like Las Vegas and Los Angeles.


Corruption too plays a part in the scarcity of clean water and reduces its availability. Slow response or no response at all to this issue in some areas is all due to corruption. Almost 40 percent of water is lost in leakages from water pipes and canals of which the main cause is illegal tapping. This also results in a hike in water prices which only goes on to ruin the poor.

Important Measures

Obviously an issue of such importance is not being given the spotlight in just now, in the 21st century. Measures have been taken previously to deal with the right to access clean water.

In 1948, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights came into being which laid down the basis to all universal rights. It formed the various social, economic and political rights of humans.

In 1966, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was formed which was a legal binding treaty where States parties are obligated to protect, respect and fulfil rights such as the right to life, the right to dignity, and the right to self determination. The right to water is not explicitly defined in this treaty but comes under the right to life as water is essential for human life on planet Earth.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which took place in 1979, was the first time water supply was addressed in a legally binding way.

 Article 14.2(h) states that women have the right to enjoy adequate living conditions, particularly in relation to housing, sanitation, electricity and water supply.

This convention was followed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, 10 years after in 1979. The convention talks about the right to health in Article 24, where the focus on combating disease and malnutrition primarily states that children should have a provision of nutritious food and clean water.

Moreover, Article 27, the entitlement to adequate living conditions is said by the Committee on the Rights of the Child to include access clean water.

One of the key conferences was the Millennium Summit, New York, USA in 2000. The conference adopted The Millennium Declaration and set various Millennium Development Goals. One of the targets is concentrated on the right to access clean water: the goal to –

reduce by half the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water by 2015

The United Nations has also declared that the decade from 2005 to 2015 is known as the ‘Water for Life’ decade

In March 2008 at the Human Rights Council Resolution on Human Rights and Access to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation decided an independent expert should be appointed to deal with the issue of the right to access clean water and basic sanitation. In the September of that year (2008) the Human Rights Council appointed Catarina de Albuquerque as the Independent Expert. She began her mandate on 1 November 2008. She has already made a number of visits to various destinations where she inquires and checks on the state of access to clean water and gives advice and makes recommendation on what further steps can be taken and how to go about in bringing them out.

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In July 2010 at United Nations General Assembly Resolution on the right to water and sanitation a resolution was initiated by Bolivia. The Resolution 64/ 292 acknowledges that clean drinking water and sanitation are integral to the realisation of all human rights. The Resolution also welcomes the important work carried out by the Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation and welcomes her presentation of an annual report to the General Assembly. 122 Nations voted in favour of this resolution and 41 countries abstained. The abstentions were mostly from primarily developed countries including the USA, Canada, Australia and several European Nations who commented that the resolution would undermine UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva to build a compromise on water rights.

Solving the Problem

How to go about solving the issue is the actual setback on solving this global concern.

Short term, and relatively simple, measures have to be taken. Treating water with chlorine, setting up new pipes and canals for widespread transportation, filters, etc are all existing technologies that can be implemented. Short term measures differ from country to country as not country has the same barriers in providing clean water.

The long term goal remains to provide easily available sources of clean and treated water for all individuals. Methods of water conservation such as water recycling and drip irrigation do contribute in making clean water more available but to bring about quick and decisive long term change a global step must be taken with all countries in unison so that the individuals of the world may benefit.

The resolution introduced by Bolivia in July 2010, which was passed, aimed at recognizing this matter once again and showed the divide between countries. 41 countries who did not want to go on record for not passing this resolution abstained, as it would complicate steps being taken in Geneva to deal with the same issue at the UN’s Human Rights council. Moreover, the resolution was not regulatory and its main aim was to raise concern for the issue and bring out backing for solutions that may come through. To resolve, however, this crisis, nations must come together as one to produce a resolution that tackles the right to access clean water thoroughly and provides the necessary change required for individuals to be given easily available, clean water.

Key Conferences

1977 United Nations Water Conference, Mar del Plata, Argentina

1990 The Global Consultation on Safe Water and Sanitation

1990 World Summit for Children

1992 International Conference on Water and the Environment, Dublin, Ireland

1995 World Summit for Social Development, Copenhagen, Denmark

1997 The First World Water Forum, Marrakesh, Morocco

2000 Millennium Summit, New York, USA

2000 The Second World Water Forum, Ministerial Conference on Water Security in the Twenty-First Century, The Hague, Netherlands

2001 International Conference on Fresh Water, Bonn, Germany

2001 New Partnerships for African Development, NEPAD framework document

2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, Rio + 10, Johannesburg, South Africa

2003 Third World Water Forum, Kyoto, Japan

2006 Fourth World Water Forum, Mexico

2009 Fifth World Water Forum, Istanbul, Turkey


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