Recently, the United Nations Human Rights Council lost its battle to make water a basic human right. The Canadian government blocked the resolutions passage in April of 2008.
The Geneva-based body wrapped up an intense three-week session late Friday without passing a German-Spanish resolution intended to enshrine its importance in a world where more than 2 billion people live in water-stressed regions.
It would have also set up an international watchdog to monitor the actions of individual countries.
After its 46 members accepted a consensus resolution – essentially for more study – Canadian representative Sarah Geh told the council: “Canada does not view this resolution as creating a human right to water under international human rights law.”
In his final speech, disappointed German representative Reinhard Schweppe stressed action is urgent. Access to clean water and sanitation, is “a part of human dignity,” he said, adding a child dies every 20 seconds due to water-borne diseases.
Advocates for water rights were devastated by the outcome.
That begs the question, why did Canada block this resolution? Apparently, It’s because of NAFTA.
Canada’s sovereignty over its own water was not established in the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994, raising problems for Ottawa internationally. In trade terms, water arguably is a commodity or service like any other.
“I believe – and I guess the government sees it the same way —– if we start signing on to recognizing water as an international human right … it might make it easy for private companies, or for those south of the border, who would like to export Canada’s water in bulk to embarrass us on the public square,” Scarpaleggia (a Canadian legislator) said.
“These people could argue, ‘Well, you’ve agreed water is a human right, we here down in Atlanta have no water, there’s a drought,’ or in California or whatever. You have a moral obligation to be consistent with your word and let us take some water down here, by one means or another.”
For what it’s worth, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Finland, France, Norway, Switzerland and other countries were disappointed by the decision to stop this resolution from passing. Read the full article here.
Did you know that fighting for access to water is not a relatively new thing? We have heard more of it lately, but in 2000, Bolivia was placed under martial law because of mass protests for the privatization of water that the government signed (at the demand of the World Bank), then backed out of, then signed again. Wonder what rioting for water looks like?
Ah, the World Bank. That bastion of right thinkers who make poor countries sell their souls for a little American cashola. But at what cost?
Bechtel, the company at the core of the water riots in Bolivia (addressed in the video above), is headquartered in San Francisco.
As we hear more and more problems with water, that which sustains life, becoming not just a commodity but one that is not available to everyone, we will see more and more riots. I wonder how long before those riots happen on U.S. soil.
Water privatization is happening worldwide, and right here in the good ol’ U. S. of A. This from Michigan:
On the verge of bankruptcy in 2001, the governor appointed an emergency financial manager for Highland Park who described herself as basically having the powers of a “dictator.” To pull the city out of debt, she began aggressively collecting water bills from the local residents. Sticker-shock ensued as bills suddenly skyrocketed into the $2000-$4000/year range. When people were unable to pay, their water was shut off. When water was shut off, children were at risk of being taken away by social services. And when residents couldn’t pay their back bills, these were rolled into their property taxes and they were threatened with eviction.
The majority of Americans get their water from their tap, which is supplied by a public utility. Alas, most utilities, along with city, county, and state governments, are in financial straits. For us to continue to have the water availability we have always known, and to meet federal water standards, the infrastructure needs to be updated and maintained. Infrastructure? Is that like bridges?
While American tap water is still among the safest in the world, our water infrastructure, including pipes, is aging and deteriorating in the face of less money for renewal and repair, and of more people needing household water service. The consequences include sewage spills that render our water unsafe for drinking, swimming, fishing, and wildlife.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that hundreds of billions of dollars are needed to address these problems. But President Bush has cut most federal funding every year. He has proposed selling control of our water systems to corporations and private investors. Once in control of our water systems, the new private owners would make decisions based on short-term profits, not on community needs.
Read more here.
Well, of course. Privatization (and cutting taxes) is the panacea to end all. And that will bring us closer to riots and our own martial law.
By the way, did you know it is illegal to collect rainwater in the states of Colorado and Washington state without a permit? (Washington State has tried to correct the law but I couldn’t determine whether their Senate bill 5113 ever passed.)
I will close with the best quote I have seen:
(T)he Chinese symbol for political order is based on that for water. “The meaning always has been clear,” the writer observes. “Those who control water control people.”