It's a crime that we live in an age where access to clean water must be guaranteed by an international policing body. But millions go without clean water every day that, without political and economic barriers, could easily have free access to it. That number increasingly reflects those in America's urban neighborhoods as much as villages in so-called 'third world countries'.
Activists around the globe observed the annual World Water Day on March 22. The program included a component entitled 'Water for Cities: Responding to the Urban Challenge'. Here in Detroit, city council just responded to the challenge by approving a water rate hike 5-3. Activists for a moratorium on all water shutoffs in Detroit wonder about the disparity between the number of shutoffs in March 2011 alone (12,000), and the number of residents receiving assistance from the Detroit Water Affordability Program (980).
Michigan Sierra Club's Melissa Damaschke responded to the vote by telling GCD that, "This is becoming a vicious cycle with rates rising and people not being able to afford it."
On July 28, 2010 the United Nations General Assembly unanimously passed a declaration stating that access to water and sanitation is a human right. It is the first time that the UN has crafted a document mandating the fundamental right to water and has been characterized by many observers as 'historic'. The 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes no mention of access to water. The new water resolution calls on States and international organizations to "provide financial resources, build capacity and transfer technology, particularly to developing countries, in scaling up efforts to provide safe, clean accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all." Globally, one billion people lack clean drinking water and over two and a half billion go without basic sanitation.
As the founder of the Blue Planet Project and director of the Council of Canadians, Maude Barlow is widely considered one of the world's leading experts on water rights. She spoke on the July 29 edition of Democracy Now about the vote of no confidence given by western nations. The United States was one of 40 nations that abstained from voting on the resolution. 122 nations voted yes to the mandate and no nations voted against it.
"What you're seeing is a split between those countries that see water as a public trust... and a human right that belongs to all, as opposed to those that are going to move to a market model." Barlow told Democracy Now host Amy Goodman. That market model increasingly relies on making water a commodity to be controlled and distributed by private interests in the name of colossal profits.
Back on the Detroit front, Maureen Taylor, of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (MWRO), told the GCD that Detroiters have been lobbying for a water rights declaration for years. Taylor says that as soon as the UN draft language is approved, water rights activists in Detroit will deliver copies to the Detroit Water Department and the Mayor's office.
"This declaration lends credence and muscle to our efforts to cease shut offs," Taylor said. "A poor mother in Detroit ain't that different than a poor mother in the Sudan if there is no water."
As for any legal recourse for Detroit citizens threatened by water shutoffs, Sierra Club's Damaschke says that we'll have to wait until the actual UN document language is drafted-- and whether the U.S. follows it.
Maureen Taylor adds that the decision of UN representatives from the U.S. to abstain from voting on the measure further indicates that government policy decisions lie in the hands of corporate interests that hope to profit from water.
"They take the position that if they abstain they are not binding to the declaration."
The clean water resolution was formally introduced by Bolivia's Representative to the UN, Pablo Solon. Solon is a veteran activist of the Cochabamba water wars in Bolivia during early 2000. He spoke in Toronto in the days leading up to the G20 Summit in June 2010 on the importance of the world's only global parliament making a firm declaration on the importance of access to clean water.
The following track incorporates elements of that speech by Solon.
WithoutWater by guy mingo