Big Victory for the Right to Water
You may remember last year when the UN passed a resolution recognizing the human right to water — a landmark decision that, while not legally binding, was a significant step in the right direction.
Now, the Botswana Court of Appeals has reversed a ruling that denied Bushmen access to water on their ancestral lands. The government had prevented them from accessing a borehole to reach water (while at the same time creating wildlife-only boreholes, and granting permission for tourist companies to operate within the reserve, complete with swimming pools.)
Food & Water Watch board chair and Council of Canadians National Chairperson Maude Barlow today called the reversal, “The first test case of our right to water resolution at the UN.”
Survival International has previously stated, “If the Bushmen are unsuccessful in the appeal, the ruling will fly in the face of two UN Declarations, which recognize water as a fundamental human right.” Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said, “The world is watching and waiting to see if the Bushmen will finally see justice. All the Bushmen ask is for a guarantee that the government will not stop them from getting water; how could any just court deny that?”
If you ever wondered what the right to water is really about, this is it. And there are many other communities around the world whose access to water for basic needs is in question. We’ve reported on Lake Naivasha previously, where the flower industry has enclosed the land surrounding the lake to the point where herdsmen (and wildlife) can only reach a small strip of the shore to access water that is increasingly polluted by pesticide runoff. I’ve also written about my trip to Moynak, a fishing village formerly on the shore of the shrunken Aral Sea, where fishermen’s livelihoods have been destroyed by environmental destruction, and where drinking water is now making people sick.
The right to water may seem like a wonky and unachievable ideal. But a look at examples around the world where peoples’ livelihoods and health are threatened due to lack of access to clean water reminds us that it’s about people and communities’ ability to survive — not ideology. And with a growing world population, climate change and industrial pollution creating more freshwater scarcity, it’s not a problem that will handily go away without continued efforts to safeguard the human right to water.