Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Right to Water

Amnesty released the report "Troubled Waters: Palestinians Denied Fair Access to Water"this week. Addressing the disparity between Israeli and Palestinian use of water, the report found that water from the shared Israeli-Palestinian aquifer is disproportionately distributed, with Israel using more than 80 percent of the resource. Additionally, the water from the coastal aquifer, which supplies most of Gaza, is 90 percent to 95 percent polluted and unfit for human consumption.

Israel, not surprisingly, disagrees with many of the reports claims. Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cited Palestinan's illegal drilling of wells as well as Israel's adherence to the Oslo Accords, on providing resources to Palestinians, in his interview with CNN on Tuesday.

In the embittered battle between Israelis and Palestinians it should be expected that resource allocation, like weapons use and land entitlement, will be fiercely debated. The more important issue that goes beyond the disparity in wealth and weapons is the fundamental importance of water.

There is currently no enforceable UN convention on the right to water. Additionally, the right to clean, potable water remains unsupported by the WTO, World Bank and the IMF who often fund the development plans to grant communities access to water. All of these organizations instead support privatization and exclusionary control of the resource internationally.

The situation in Gaza is a case study on the problems that water creates and will continue to create over the next decade if not addressed on an international level.

The privatization of water from Bolivia to Detroit has enabled governments, backed by corporations to displace and disadvantage low income communities. Not only used as a tool for "urban renewal" and increased taxes, control of water continues to fuel territorial fighting in Sub Saharan Africa and unsustainable building initiatives, like the 3 Gorges dam on the Yangtze.

Human health and the biodiversity of the planet are dependent on water. Because water is inherent to the survival of all life it seems to be forgotten, its safety assumed. The right to clean water is the most basic of human rights. It is interwoven within all other human rights - life can not be imagined without it. Yet water is not protected. Peoples access to water and its potability is not guaranteed.

The UN has acknowledge this reality, adopting the words but not the action necessary to guarantee all people access to water: “the right to water clearly falls within the category of guarantees essential for securing an adequate standard of living, particularly since it is one of the most fundamental conditions for survival.” But UNDHR has yet to be altered to include the defendable protection of access to potable public water. Such a step would give the issue the international legitimacy, enforcement measures and precedent for adoption in national law that are desperately needed.

Schools can close, speech can be censored but when water is unavailable people don't just protest, they disappear. Famine, disease, death, displacement, war. All of these exist today and all of these are increasingly brought about by the privatization of water and the growing scarcity of water.

The situation in Gaza, in all of its forms, is a tragedy. Human rights abuses that have taken place on both sides and the inability to establish true peace between Palestinians and Israelis is a dark part of 2009, as it has been a dark part of history for decades.

The issue of water that the Palestinian people face speaks to a greater conflict growing between nations and within nations. Water must remain a public good, a human right. If not handled with equitable and far sighted thought and legislation, the global issue of an individuals right to water will become the greatest humanitarian crises of the 21st century.

From the World Health Organization :

- an estimated 1.7 billion people still lack access to clean water

- 2.3 billion people suffer from water-borne diseases each year

- Water-borne diseases occur due to the inability to provide clean water, but increasingly due to pricing of water. Pre-paid water meters are installed in poor areas in order to ensure profitable supply and services are cut-off if citizens fall behind on their payments. Privatization of water has only exacerbated the problem.

1 comment:

  1. great post, Leiha! keep it up. Fascinating stuff. You might want to check out Miriam Lowi's work, Water and Conflict, for more on this topic. The environmental security literature offers a lot on this topic as well.