Water, a human right

Everyone has a right to clean drinking water and hygienic sanitary facilities.

Walking many miles to fetch water - Kenia © Dieter Telemans

And yet, this right is not enforceable. Before anyone can assert this right, it needs to be written into a country’s constitutional law.

End 2002, the United Nations defined the right to water as follows: "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. The human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses. (…)Water should be treated as a social and cultural good, and not primarily as an economic good. The manner of the realization of the right to water must also be sustainable, ensuring that the right can be realized for present and future generations."

In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution which explicitly recognises access to clean drinking water and sanitation as a fundamental, indivisible human right. Although primarily of a symbolic nature, this resolution is a powerful signal encouraging nations worldwide to legislate on this human right.
Global access to water and sanitation has improved substantially, but a firm commitment to their worldwide ratification as a human right remains crucial. Already, a number of rich countries are considering to grant access to their water resources only against payment, which is an insult to the idea of water as a human right. Just as privatisation would be an aberration, leading only to increased prices for tap water.

In 2013, over 1.8 million Europeans signed the petition Right2Water. This first successful European citizens’ initiative asks the European Commission to propose legislation implementing the human right to water. European governments are to ensure all citizens dispose of sufficient and clean drinking water and sanitation. The citizens’ initiative also asks the EU to increase its efforts to achieve universal access to water and sanitation.