Barlow served as an advisor on water to the UN and chairs the
board of Food & Water Watch. Her latest book is Whose
Water is it Anyway? Taking Water Protection Into Public Hands.
years ago today, the United Nations General Assembly adopted
a resolution affirming that water and sanitation are fundamental
human rights “essential for the full enjoyment of the
right to life.” Two months later, the UN Human Rights
Council clarified that governments have the primary responsibility
to deliver these new rights but called upon member states and
international organizations to assist countries of the global
South who might struggle to fulfill their new obligations.
was an historic development in the long search for water justice.
Water was not included in the 1948 Universal Declaration of
Human Rights as it seemed to be a limitless resource available
to all. But a perfect storm of global water depletion and destruction,
growing poverty and inequality, and rising water rates for residents
– often the result of the privatization of water services
– led to a full blown human rights crisis by the turn
of the 21st century. With billions living without access to
clean water and sanitation, the call for water justice was born.
fight to recognize the human right to water was surprisingly
fierce and bitter. It was opposed by the private water utilities
and the bottled water industry, the World Bank that was promoting
water privatization in developing countries, the World Water
Council, and many wealthy countries of the North, including
Great Britain, Canada and the United States.
& Water Watch played an important role in achieving this
pivotal mandate. Wenonah Hauter (Executive Director) and I attended
many conferences around the world promoting the human right
to water and stood up to the “Lords of Water,” as
I called them. I was in the balcony of the General Assembly
on July 28, 2010, when it overwhelmingly adopted this historic
resolution and I remember feeling that, in defining water and
sanitation as an issue of justice rather than charity, the human
family had just taken an evolutionary step forward.
have been real and tangible results. Over four dozen countries
have either amended their constitutions or introduced new laws
to guarantee the human right to water. Communities in the global
South have used the UN resolution to fight foreign companies
destroying their water sources and gone to court to gain access
to local water supplies.
right to water has been used to fight water shut offs around
the world and is a pivotal argument that Food & Water Watch
has made to stop water shutoffs in U.S. cities during the time
of COVID-19 and beyond. The human right to water is also the
foundation of the WATER Act, which would ensure that every person
has access to safe clean water in the United States.
fight water privatization, many towns and cities have become
“Blue Communities,” a Canadian initiative that is
spreading around the world. Almost 25 million people now live
in official Blue Communities that have pledged to protect water
as a human right, a public trust and public service and to phase
out bottled water on municipal premises and at municipal events.
These cities include Montreal, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Paris,
Berlin and Brussels.
we are in a race against time as industries like fracking and
bottled water divert, pollute, over-extract and mismanage the
world’s dwindling water supplies. Massive drought is threatening
lives and livelihoods around the world. The UN warns that two-thirds
of the global population could be living in water-stressed countries
in just five short years. Here in the U.S., drought is on the
rise, as are water rates. At least 2 million Americans do not
have access to running water and basic sanitation.
COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a huge spotlight on the water crisis
as half the population of the world has no place to wash their
hands with soap and warm water. As a result, some of the aid
money coming from northern countries and the UN will provide
clean water and sanitation to those most in peril. Perhaps this
will lead to real change. Last year, almost 2 million children
died from dirty water and poor sanitation. This is a travesty.
us vow to fulfill the pledge taken by the nations of the world
ten years ago. Water is a human right.