Dear EarthTalk: Recently the UN voted to declare access to safe and clean water a "human right." Isn't that a no-brainer? What are the ramifications of this declaration?--P. James, Boston, MA
In July 2010 the United Nations (UN) agreed to a new resolution declaring the human right to "safe and clean drinking water and sanitation." One hundred twenty-two nations voted in favor of the resolution; 41 (primarily developed) countries abstained; and there were zero "no" votes. The agreement comes on the heels of a protracted effort on the part of Bolivia and 30 other (mostly developing) nations determined to improve access to clean water and proper sanitation systems for the poorer human residents of the planet.
Bolivia's Permanent Representative to the UN, Pablo Solon, cheered passage of the resolution that he had campaigned hard for, and stressed the need to recognize access to safe drinking water and sanitation as a human right as global supplies of fresh water get fewer and farther between. "Approximately one out of every eight people does not have drinking water," Solon told reporters. "In just one day, more than 200 million hours of the time used by women is spent collecting and transporting water for their homes." According to the declaration, approximately 884 million people lack access to safe drinking water.
"The lack of sanitation is even worse, because it affects 2.6 billion people [or] 40 percent of the global population," Solon said, citing a 2009 World Health Organization and UNICEF study which found some 24,000 children in developing countries were dying each day from preventable causes like diarrhea resulting from polluted water. "This means that a child dies every three-and-a-half seconds," added Solon.
The resolution itself carries no regulatory weight, but backers view it as important to raising awareness of the problem and engendering support for solutions. "We are calling for actions ... in communities around the world to ensure...