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UN Declares Water a Fundamental Human Right -- U.S. Abstains from Voting on Resolution

The planet is running out of water. It was about time for the UN to recognize the right of every human being on earth to water and sanitation.

The United Nations General Assembly has declared for the first time that access to clean water and sanitation is a fundamental human right. In a historic vote Wednesday, 122 countries supported the resolution, and over forty countries abstained from voting, including the United States, Canada and several European and other industrialized countries. There were no votes against the resolution.



Bolivia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Pablo Solon, introduced the resolution at the General Assembly Wednesday.

    PABLO SOLON: [translated] At the global level, approximately one out of every eight people do not have drinking water. In just one day, more than 200 million hours of the time used by women is spent collecting and transporting water for their homes. The lack of sanitation is even worse, because it affects 2.6 billion people, which represents 40 percent of the global population. According to the report of the World Health Organization and of UNICEF of 2009, which is titled "Diarrhoea: Why Children Are [Still] Dying and What We Can Do," every day 24,000 children die in developing countries due to causes that can be prevented, such as diarrhea, which is caused by contaminated water. This means that a child dies every three-and-a-half seconds. One, two, three. As they say in my village, the time is now.

AMY GOODMAN: Bolivia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Pablo Solon, urging support for the resolution Bolivia introduced recognizing access to clean water and sanitation as a fundamental human right.

For more on this historic vote, we’re joined now here in New York by longtime water justice advocate Maude Barlow. She’s the chair of the Council of Canadians, co-founder of the Blue Planet Project and board chair of Food and Water Watch. Last year she served as senior adviser on water to the President of the United Nations General Assembly.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

MAUDE BARLOW: So glad to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the significance of this. If you asked people in this country, they would have no idea this has passed.

MAUDE BARLOW: I know, I know, which is why you matter, I just have to say. This is very, very distressing to know something this important happened and it’s been blanketed. There’s no media here; it’s just like it didn’t happen. It’s had media in other places.

There’s no human—there has been no human right to water. It wasn’t included in the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights. And then, more recently, when people have realized that it needed to happen, there were very powerful forces against it—powerful countries, powerful corporate interests and so on. But Ambassador Solon and a number of developing countries decided that they were going to move this, countries from the Global South, that they were going to move this through, and they just tabled it a month ago, and yesterday, at the vote at the United Nations, they won. Not one country had the guts to stand against them, even though lots of them wanted to do it.

And basically, for the first time, the United Nations General Assembly debated the right to water and sanitation—it’s very important both were included—and acknowledged and recognized the right of every human being on earth to water and sanitation. And this matters because—as you know, because we’ve talked so many times—we are running—a planet running out of water. Brand new World Bank study says that the demand is going to exceed supply by 40 percent in twenty years. It’s just a phenomenal statement. And the human suffering behind that is just unbelievable. And what this did was basically say that the United Nations has decided it’s not going to let huge populations leave them behind as this crisis unfolds, that the new priority is to be given to these populations without water and sanitation.

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