Can Crisis Secure the Right to Water?

What comes to mind when you think about water?

Perhaps a swim in the pool on a hot day, ice cubes in your favorite drink or the relaxation of a long, hot shower after a tough day at work.

Well what if you could have none of those things? What if water – and the necessity of its use – translated into stomach cramps …diarrhea …malnutrition …death?

For 884 million people a source of safe drinking water is unavailable, according to UNICEF, and for 2.5 billion people there is no access to clean sanitation.

Over 3 million people a year die as a result of water-borne diseases. In the time it took me to type that sentence, a child died from lack of clean water.

On July 28 the United Nations General Assembly passed a nonbinding resolution affirming access to clean water and sanitation as fundamental human rights – that means that every, single human being on the planet should be able to raise a glass without fear of getting cholera.

Making it a reality is a huge challenge.

A nonbinding resolution places no real legal compulsion on governments, businesses or any other entity to guarantee that right.

Even among long-established, broadly recognized human rights instruments there is little to inspire hope for a quick resolution to peoples’ water woes. For example, over 60 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not everyone on the planet can speak their mind.

But when it comes to the right to water, there is an odd paradox at work that may actually help speed up efforts to secure safe global supplies.

Across the stakeholder spectrum there is almost universal acknowledgement that the world’s water challenges are only becoming increasingly more complex. Blame it on global warming, greedy governments or careless private enterprises, but projections show growing populations and shrinking supply will leave almost half of the world population living in areas of water stress by 2030.

And it is actually this fearsome reality – and the possibility of water-related unrest and conflict it holds – that will continue to push public and private planners towards innovative and more sustainable uses of water.

There is no magic bullet to solve the world’s water woes. Governments, corporations and NGOs have been grappling with issues of water quality and supply for decades. But the combined factors of the UN declaration, climate change and an ever shrinking amount of available resources presents the best chance yet to pursue truly systematic global change in the way we manage our water.

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