07/16/2010, 00.00
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UN discusses water, a fundamental human right

At least 3 billion people have no running water within a kilometre from home, 884 million draw drinking water from unprotected sources. The UN debates whether to recognize water as a crucial Human Right. But Canada and other developed states oppose the move.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The right to water as fundamental human right: the UN is discussing a resolution that states as much and which is expected to be voted on in July. But it is facing opposition from Western countries, Canada in the lead, outlining a tough north-south conflict. Maude Barlow, supporter and former adviser to United Nations Resolution on Water in 2008-2009, explains to the Inter Press Service agency that about 2 billion people are living in regions poor in water and at least 3 billion do not have running water within a kilometre from their home. Barlow sent a letter to all 192 UN delegates to ask that water rights be included among the fundamental human rights, stressing that this is necessary for a dignified life and that when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Humans was approved in 1948 it was unimaginable that one day the right to water would be challenged. She explains that “in 2010 it is no exaggeration to say that the lack of access to drinking water is the greatest violation of human rights worldwide".

Canada has opposed the recognition of this right, as well as Australia and Western states like the United States and Britain, to the point where the controversy is fast becoming a contrast between northern and southern hemispheres. The resolution in question recognizes "water and healthcare" as fundamental rights.

Ann-Mari Karlsson of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) agrees that "the right to water and health are components of the right to an adequate standard of living and that these rights fall within the scope of art. 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ".

The figures provided by Siwi are of grave concern: 884 million people still draw drinking water from sources such as lakes, irrigation canals, unprotected wells, over 50% of malnourished children are the result of diarrhoea and intestinal infections, consequences of lack of clean water and poor hygiene; every year there are 1.8 million deaths from intestinal infections, 90% are children under 5 years, almost all in developing countries; in developing countries half of hospital beds are occupied by victims of diseases associated with water scarcity, at least two-thirds of people who lack water earn less than 2 dollars a day for a living.

Among the 10 countries largest users of water are India, China, Pakistan, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Russia, as well as the U.S. and Mexico, but in large cities in the poor slum dwellers pay from 5 to 10 times more for a litre of water than those who live in rich neighbourhoods. A child born in a developed country consumes 30 to 50 times more water than one born in a developing country.

The EU has already recognized water as a human right and supporters of the motion hope EU countries will fight to see it approved.  But no one expects an immediate recognition of this right, given the opposition of various countries and the need to reach a global consensus. Experts say that many objections are motivated by the search for economic gain: to maintain the right to sell water at a high price.

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