PLoS Medicine Editorial Argues For Water Access To Be Considered Human Right

“As scientists warn that the world’s fresh water supplies will soon run critically short, and companies scramble to privatize them, some researchers and activists say water should be considered a basic human right,” Wired’s blog, “Wired Science” writes of an editorial published in PLoS Medicine Tuesday (Keim, 6/30).

While the WHO currently estimates 1.2 billion people worldwide are without access to clean drinking water, and an additional 2.6 billion lack adequate sanitation services, “[t]he U.N. has estimated that 2.8 billion people in 48 countries will be living in conditions of water stress or scarcity by 2025,” the authors write in the PLoS Medicine editorial.

Responding to recent opposition by Canada, Russia and the U.S., the editorial authors outline three main arguments for why water should be declared a human right, pointing to the fact that: access to clean water has the potential to reduce the global burden of disease caused by water-borne infections; privatization of water has failed to serve those suffering most from water shortages; and the existence of climate change is increasing the prospects of global water scarcity.

Pointing to the failure of reaching previous clean water access goals and the slim prospects of attaining related U.N. Millennium Development Goals, the authors write, “Critics have called inadequate access to water and sanitation a ‘silent emergency’ that has yet to command sufficient attention from the international community or from health professionals. Clearly we need a more radical approach” (6/30).

Wired Science writes: “In terms of intellectual coherency, the idea [that water be considered a human right] passes muster. Water’s just as essential to life as food, which makes an appearance in Article 25 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

“Of course, it’s a lot easier to declare a right than to enforce it. … But as the PLoS Medicine editors point out, recognizing water as a human right would at least provide a framework for dealing with water privatization” (6/30).

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