Safe Water is a Basic Human Right - Human Rights Day

On the 28th of July, 2010, the United Nations came together in a General Assembly to pass a resolution that recognizes a person’s basic human right to clean water. Recalling their Resolution 54/175 of December 17, 1999, world leaders have recognized that for a country to develop, adequate and clean water must be accessible to its people. Recalling their Resolution 55/196 of December 20, 2000, Resolution 58/217 of December 23, 2003, and Resolution 59/228 of December 22, 2004, the General Assembly revisited their previous discussions about the global water crisis and the importance of water and sanitation. In line with the previous resolutions, Resolution 64/292 “The human right to water and sanitation” was proclaimed. This is a resolution that recognizes the importance of water and sanitation for the realization of all other human rights. To quote the committee "The human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights". Aside from that, it is a resolution that encourages solidarity between countries, providing technological and capacity-building aid for developing countries that have problems with water safety, cleanliness, and accessibility. The goal of the resolution is to provide clean, safe, and affordable water for all in the near future.

Resolution 64/292 Criteria

Under the UN’s 64/292 resolution, specific criteria as to when water can be considered sufficient, safe, acceptable, accessible, and affordable have been provided. Each criterion is detailed below:

Sufficiency Criteria

Before we could talk about any other criteria, we must ensure that each person gets enough water for personal and domestic uses. When we say personal and domestic use, it encompasses water for drinking, water for personal sanitation, water for washing the clothes, water for food preparation, and water for personal and household hygiene. To realize this criterion, 50 to 100 liters of water must be allocated to a single person per day. According to the World Health Organization, when a person has access to this much water, their most basic needs will be met and there would be fewer health concerns.

Safety Criteria

Aside from adequate water for everyone, another point of concern is safety. Having enough water for everyone to use is no good if it compromises a person’s general health. So the resolution also made it a point that water for personal or domestic use must be safe. The water must be free of all microorganisms that may cause waterborne diseases. It must also be free of chemical and radiological substances that may cause adverse health effects. Different countries may have different safety standards with regard to water quality. However, the World Health Organization has some solid guidelines concerning water quality standards that should act as a good reference for all member countries of the United Nations.

Acceptability Criteria

Despite being safe, freshwater would sometimes have an odd color, odor, and taste which may discourage use. So that people would be comfortable with using the water, their color, odor, and taste must be acceptable. Aside from that, facilities that involve water, like the toilet, must be culturally appropriate and sensitive to gender. These facilities must be designed with the potential users’ culture and gender orientation in mind. These facilities must also meet the user’s privacy requirements.

Accessibility Criteria

Having safe, sufficient, and acceptable water is useless when they are inaccessible to everyone or accessible only to a few people. This is why the water source should be within 1000 meters of the users’ houses and collection time should not exceed 30 minutes, these are WHO’s recommendations.

Affordability Criteria

Last but not the least, even if the water is sufficient, safe, acceptable, and accessible. A person’s basic human right to have access to this precious resource would not be realized if it is too expensive. According to the United Nations Development Programme or UNDP, for clean and safe water to be available to the masses its cost should not exceed 3 percent of the average household income.

Current State

Despite the passage of the resolution, we still have a long way to go. Approximately 844 million people do not have access to basic drinking water; that’s more than 10% of the world’s population. Women and girls are more affected by this lack of basic resources as they are often the ones tasked with obtaining water. This everyday routine of fetching water for their family takes a considerable amount of their time. If you combine all of the hours that girls and women spend hauling water on a daily basis, it comes up to 200 million hours. Hours which could have been spent doing work, attending school, or engaging in family care. This goes to show that the lack of water is a gender issue. Aside from that, this also shows that the absence of sufficient, safe, acceptable, accessible, and affordable water has economic consequences as it disrupts work and education. It is estimated that economic opportunities worth $260 billion are lost globally due to the lack of water. This locks people in a cycle of poverty.

Another dismal reality created by the lack of water is child mortality. More than 800 children under the age of 5 die from diarrhea attributed to poor water and sanitation each day. This is especially true in developing countries. The lack of clean and safe water is recognized as a health crisis. Each year, more than 1 million people die from waterborne diseases which could have been prevented if they had access to clean and safe water. As of writing, the COVID-19 pandemic still rages on, and access to usable water is even more important.

If nothing is done right away our water crisis would only worsen. It is projected that by 2050, 25% of the world’s population would experience chronic or recurring fresh-water shortages.

What is being done?

Although we are still far from realizing our goal of providing safe freshwater for everyone, steps have been taken towards the realization of this goal. Major improvements in the accessibility of clean drinking water have been made since the 90s that by 2015 it was estimated that 2.6 billion people, who previously didn’t have access to safe drinking water, are now enjoying clean water.

Every person knows of the importance of water, but it wasn’t until 1993 when the United Nations General Assembly declared March 22 as a day for the appreciation of water, World Water Day. Since then, member nations have been working towards making clean freshwater accessible to everyone. In 2000, the member states of the United Nations kicked their water development goals into high gear. Thus, reducing the number of people without access to safe water by 50% has been added to the Millennium Development Goals or MDGs. Three years after, a branch of the United Nations called UN-water was created as a body that tackles sanitation and freshwater issues. Despite the United Nation’s efforts in making water accessible to everyone, population growth caught up with them that by 2005 chronic water shortages went up by 9%. This startling effect of population growth prompted the United Nations to declare the years between 2005 to 2015 as the Internation Decade for Action “Water for Life.” Within this decade, the UN declared 2008 as the International Year of Sanitation, this celebration prioritizes health and dignity which are products of Sanitation. By 2010, the Millenium Development Goals concerning access to clean water were achieved five years ahead of its intended schedule. In 2013, the United Nations declared November 19 as World Toilet Day with the aim of addressing the issue of proper sanitation with regards to open defecation. By 2015, the Millenium Development Goals concluded with the United Nations meeting their proposed goals regarding access to clean water. Not wanting to stop there, the member states of the United Nations signed the Sustainable Development Goals, the successor to the MDG. Basically, this new goal aims to provide clean water and sanitation for all by 2030. Also in 2015, UNICEF and WHO developed the “Water and Sanitation for Health Facility Improvement Tool” or WASH FIT. This initiative aims to guide small, primary health care facilities in low- and middle-income communities to improve water safety, sanitation, and hygiene through realistic and well-defined plans and actions.


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