Water as a human right

Water as a human right

The UN resolution of 28 July 2010 declares, for the first time, the right to water a universal and fundamental human right and states that nation states should, among other things, ensure good quality water, accessible to all and that everyone can enjoy it at a reasonable distance from their home. Water, therefore, is an inalienable right of the human person as an instrument of immediate survival and not a commodity.

The Resolution also affirmed that “the human right to water and sanitation derives from the right to an adequate standard of living and is inextricably aimed at improving the state of physical and mental health as well as the right to life and dignity”.

The delay in the application of the principle by the Nation States

As it is easy to see, the fact that the right to water has been officially recognized by the United Nations has not brought with it any radical change in the legislation of the various countries nor has it greatly improved the condition of those who do not have access to water. However, this recognition has helped to strengthen the positions of those countries that had already included the right to water within their legal framework (it is not surprising that the main promoter of the recognition of the human right to water at international level was Bolivia since, in 2009, the human right to water was included in the Bolivian Constitution); but above all it has provided a very useful tool for political debate in defense of the right to water.

In fact, the United Nations has not seen any significant change either in the legislation of the various countries, or in terms of improving the availability and quality of this indispensable resource. And it is not possible to calculate how many countries will actually be able to achieve Goal 6 of the UN 2030 Agenda, given the lack of political will and the substantial funding required. Following in-depth analysis, Water Aid estimates that some countries – such as Namibia, Eritrea and Nicaragua, to name a few – will have to wait another 500 years before guaranteeing universal access to sanitation.

Water, a fundamental and disputed resource

Water scarcity, poor water quality and inadequate hygiene negatively impact food security, livelihood choices and educational opportunities for poor families around the world. The diseases of poverty continue to claim victims, especially in low- and middle-income countries. More than 1,000 children die every day, according to UNESCO, from diseases (e.g. dysentery, respiratory tract infections) that add to chronic malnutrition and could be largely prevented with the availability of drinking water and basic health infrastructure. #water as a human right.

Blue gold is the cause and instrument of conflicts, often unnoticed and in any case underestimated, as well as political instability and social tensions. The World Bank has documented 507 ongoing conflicts related to the control of water resources: from the Middle East, to Iraq, from Pakistan and Bangladesh, but also in Latin America and Congo. Many bloody conflicts develop around the struggle for water resources and for the domination of territories adjacent to the great rivers where the populations survive thanks to the availability of their waters.

Need for more effective policy action

A systemic approach is increasingly indispensable and urgent, to address the global ecological and social problem that will most likely prevent the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals proposed by the UN Agenda by 2030. Goal 6 of the Agenda proposes to the international community to “ensure universal access to drinking water and sanitation through affordable pricing and efficient and sustainable management”.

But due to the lack of political will, the economic infrastructural problems and the prevailing perception that water is an unlimited resource, no State is carrying out constructive interventions to address this issue nor, much less, to recognize the rights of nature and the environment while safeguarding the natural water cycle. #water as a human right.


Author: Dr. Rossella Colagrossi, former director of the Ministry of Health, responsible for the correct application of the legislation concerning water intended for human consumption.

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