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Home > By DEPARTMENTS > Leadership and Governance for Sustainability > Sustainable Development Strategies at Governance Level

UN Affirms the Right to Safe Water and Sanitation

This is a historic day. I think every now and then, the human species advances somewhat in our evolution, and today was one of those advances.

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The UN affirms the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation.

"A remarkable piece of water history should have been headline news everywhere this week.

After over a decade of grassroots organizing and lobbying, the global water justice movement achieved a significant victory when the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to affirm "the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights."

The resolution—put forward by Bolivia and co-sponsored by 35 states—passed overwhelmingly with 122 states voting in favor and 41 abstaining.

Embarrassed to go on record against the right to this fundamental liquid, not one country voted against it.'

The Universal Declaration on Human Rights, approved in 1948, did not specifically recognize a right to water. But in recent decades, worsening water scarcity and contamination, aggravated by global climate change, has made a resolution on water rights more urgent, said advocates.

Next month, a meeting will be held to review progress on the Millennium Development Goals, one of which is to reduce by half the number of people without sanitation. “It would have looked very bad indeed at that meeting for countries to have voted against the right to sanitation,” said Anil Naidoo, coordinator of the Blue Planet Project.

That the resolution did not stop at "access" makes it more powerful. "It means governments have to provide the water even if people cannot pay for it . . . it's an important distinction," Barlow said. The resolution will heighten pressure on countries to ensure that their citizens enjoy water and sanitation. As with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the implementation of the resolution will likely be uneven and won through local advocacy campaigns, for which the resolution will constitute a legal tool to strengthen advocacy for thirsty people around the globe.

Grassroots efforts to ensure that communities have the knowledge, money, and legal backing to sustainably manage their water resources will continue their work—but they hope to find that work strengthened by the new resolution.

Bolivia has played a leadership role in securing the right to water and sanitation since the third World Water Forum in Kyoto. A visionary country working hand-in-hand with a global coalition can make a very big difference indeed.

It’s approved. And just in time. Now we must put it into practice.

Read the full story at

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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