International Expert Evaluates US on Right to Water

An international expert from the UN, Catarina de Albuquerque, has been visiting the US in order to see how we stack up when it comes to making sure that everyone who lives here has access to clean, safe drinking water. Not surprising, there is lots of room for improvement.

Today she reported back on her initial findings:

"The US must do more to eliminate discrimination in practice. I am concerned that several laws, policies and practices, while appearing neutral at face value, have a disproportionate impact on the enjoyment of human rights by certain groups. For example, for every 1 per cent increase in Boston ward's percentage of people of colour, the number of threatened cut offs increases by 4 per cent."

She also talked about the 13 percent of Native Americans without access to safe water or sanitation -- a number which stands in sharp contrast to the 0.6 percent of non-native households -- and about the total lack of access for the homeless.

"I call for legal action to change the status of unrecognized and terminated tribes to enable all American Indians to gain the respect, privileges, religious freedom, and land and water rights to which they are entitled," she stressed. "The US must ensure that water and sanitation are available at a price people can afford. Ensuring the right to water and sanitation for all requires a paradigm shift - new designs and approaches that promote human rights, that are affordable and that create more value in terms of public health, community development, and global ecosystem protection." 

One of the groups she met with while here was Corporate Accountability International, which helped provide information about how water privatization affects communities. They reported:

At a time when the world is facing a global water crisis where two in three people may soon not have enough water to meet their basic needs, water bottlers like Nestlé are undermining the human right to water by attempting to manipulate and strong-arm communities into handing over their water rights - often after strong objections. These activists shared their stories in hopes that the UN will take immediate action to secure the human right to water and prevent profiteers from abusing more communities like theirs around the world.

Overall, the Independent Expert's preliminary remarks on the conclusion of her mission make a strong case as to why the U.S. needs to make realization of the human right to water a priority. In particular she:

  • recognizes the concerns of community groups working to protect the human right to water from water bottling corporations like Nestlé, and calls on government officials to exercise proper oversight of the bottled water industry;

  • urges the federal government to continue funding water infrastructure in a manner that ensures this funding is not only sustained but also benefits those most in need of improved access to water; and,

  • calls on the federal government to adopt a national water policy that would be guided by human rights norms, as well as a mandatory standard on affordability.

    We hope that the work of the Independent Expert will help move U.S. decision makers to take a more progressive stance on the human right to water. Unfortunately, the U.S. lags behind other countries in acknowledging the rights underpinning the right to water. Our government has not joined many international treaties that affirm economic, social and cultural rights, and historically has been reluctant to affirm the human right to water itself.

There's much to be done on this front -- and that include right now. Proposed budgets plan on slashing funding for water infrastructure and eliminating safeguards agasint pollution that were written into the Clean Water Act. Tell your legislators that we need to more, not less funding and oversight when it comes to water.


AlterNet / By Tara Lohan

Posted at March 4, 2011, 9:42am