Clean Water and Sanitation a Human Right: Even in Canada
In late July 2010 the UN’s general assembly voted in favor of the resolution that recognizes access to clean water and sanitization as a human right. This vote addressed the need for water issues to become the responsibility of governing states and the international community. 122 member states voted in favour of the resolution, with none opposing and 41 abstaining to vote. The representative from Canada was one of the 41 abstainers.
Human rights advocates see the passing of this resolution as a ‘historic’ decision towards improving the lives of many who are without adequate clean water and sanitization. Among those applauding this decision by the general assembly is Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians. She sees this vote as a ‘step forward in the struggle for a just world’. The resolution calls on states and financial organizations to provide financial resources, build capacity, and transfer technology in order to facilitate clean drinking water access.
Despite their abstention from the vote the Canadian government will be expected to recognize this resolution as it moves closer to becoming a binding agreement. Canada has largely acknowledged water as a commercial good, with moves both domestically and internationally to privatize its use. This market-based approach to water distribution may need to be re-thought as the nations representing the majority of the Earth’s population (5.4 B people) voted in favour of water becoming a Universal Human Right. This means the onus will be placed on the national governments and international community to facilitate and maintain the access to clean water and sanitation.
The issues of clean water and sanitation do not only affect developing nations. At home, this resolution should help facilitate the improvement of water quality in many First Nation communities. Currently 80 First Nation communities are under ‘boil-water advisories’ as source water is contaminated and access to proper sanitation is not available. Many of these communities have been without adequate water supplies for upwards of 10 years. Barlow is now urging First Nations communities to start using this resolution to get the federal government to honour its international commitment domestically.
For a nation as water-rich as Canada it is shocking to see so many communities without adequate water access. As this human rights issue gains international attention it is important that Canadians address their domestic water issues quickly and effectively.
As CIELAP looks to a sustainable future it is important to understand the social and economic issues that face us, as they are inextricably linked to environmental degradation. CIELAP is currently working on a project to educate Southern Ontario communities about source water protection. Water quality and quantity issues still exist in Canada. This UN resolution should direct more attention towards Canadians who do not have adequate drinking water. As a developed nation with abundant supplies of fresh water Canada should become a leader, not a laggard, in helping facilitate the access of clean water for all people.
Josh Wise – CIELAP Intern