The human right to water--challenges of implementation.

Author:Salman, Salman M.A.

The arithmetic of water in the world today shows a very gloomy picture. Close to one billion people lack access to improved water resources, 2.6 billion people are without provision for sanitation, and 1.5 million children under age 5 die annually of water-borne diseases. By 2050 one-fourth of the world population will live in countries with chronic water shortage, mostly in the Middle East, Africa, and parts of India and China. Population growth presents the major challenge. The world population grew from 1.6 billion to 6.1 billion during the last century, and is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050--competing for the same amount of water. The variations in availability and uses are stark. An average American uses 90 gallons a day, a European 53 gallons, and a Sub-Saharan African only five gallons. This situation has generated extensive debate on how to deal with the challenges of the competing demands of the different uses and users, and how to guarantee access of the poor and vulnerable segments of the population to adequate amounts of water.

The debate on the human right to water started as early as the mid-1970s. However, it was really General Comment No. 15 issued in November 2002 by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (the Committee) that unleashed the concept of the human right to water. The crux of General Comment No. 15 is Paragraph 2, which states:

The human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses. An adequate amount of safe water is necessary to prevent death from dehydration, to reduce the risk of water-related diseases and to provide for consumption, cooking, personal and domestic hygienic requirements." Eight years after the Committee issued General Comment No. 15, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted Resolution 64/292 on July 2010. (1) The resolution declared "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."

This resolution was followed two months later by a more elaborate and comprehensive resolution issued by the Human Rights Council (the Council) in September 2010. The Council resolution affirmed that "the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation is derived from the right to an adequate standard of living and inextricably related to the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental...

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