From Ken Saro-Wiwa

The environment is man's first right. Without a safe environment, man cannot exist to claim other rights, be they political, social, or economic.

Learn more about Ken here

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Right to Water


  • The human right to drinking water is fundamental for life and health. Sufficient and safe drinking water is a precondition for ecological functionality; human happiness and wellbeing; and the realization of all human rights.
  • The sufficiency, safety, affordability, of and accessibility to water, are fundamental to human dignity, happiness and well-being. These are fundamental to the human right to water. The human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, affordable, physically accessible, safe, and acceptable water for personal and domestic use subject to sustainability and ecological restraints.
  • Water is a fundamental human right, a public good, a public trust and part of the global commons.
  • Water must also be managed to protect ecological integrity inclusive of the rights of future generations.
  • Water must not be treated as a commodity and must neither be subjected to privatization, corporate profit nor international trade agreements.
  • Water must not be traded in a stock exchange fashion
  • Water must be re-bundled with land. Land and water cannot be separated.
  • Responsibilities extend beyond the Australian government to corporations, international financial institutions operating within Australia and other non-governmental water actors.
  • Water systems must be locally, publicly and democratically owned and controlled, in a transparent manner. Reports on such ownership, control and management must be made annually in Australian, State and Territory Parliaments.
  • Australian governments – whether federal, state, territory, or local government – and their agencies, agents and instrumentalities together with the private water industry and international financial institutions and others must not interfere with nor circumscribe the human right to water.
  • Sustainable access to water resources for agriculture must be protected to realise the right to adequate food subject to ecological constraints (inclusive of the need to produce food closest to where it will be consumed)
  • Individual, family, and small companies must be considered for positive attention and action with regard to equitable access to water and water management systems, including sustainable rain harvesting and irrigation technology, to prevent imbalance by large corporate agricultural holdings.
  • Governments must ensure access to water for subsistence farming and for securing the livelihoods and self-determination of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people subject to ecological restraints.
  • Water is to be treated as a social and cultural good, not primarily as an economic good. The manner of the realization of the right to water must also be sustainable, ensuring that the right can be realized for present and future generations.
  • While the adequacy of water required for the right to water may vary according to different conditions, the following factors apply in all circumstances:

(a) Availability. The water supply for each person must be sufficient and continuous for personal and domestic uses. These uses ordinarily include drinking, personal sanitation, washing of clothes, food preparation, personal and household hygiene. The quantity of water available for each person should correspond to World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. Some individuals and groups may also require additional water due to health, climate, and work conditions;

(b) Quality. The water required for each personal or domestic use must be safe, therefore free from micro-organisms, chemical substances and radiological hazards that constitute a threat to a person’s health. Furthermore, water should be of an acceptable colour, odour and taste for each personal or domestic use.

(c) Accessibility. Water and water facilities and services have to be accessible to everyone without discrimination.

Accessibility has four overlapping dimensions:

(i) Physical accessibility: Water, and adequate water facilities and services, must be within safe physical reach for all sections of the population. Sufficient, safe and acceptable water must be accessible within, or in the immediate vicinity, of each household, educational institution and workplace. All water facilities and services must be of sufficient quality, culturally appropriate and sensitive to gender, life-cycle and privacy requirements. This has particular applicability in indigenous communities. Physical security should not be threatened during access to water facilities and services;

(ii) Economic accessibility: Water, and water facilities and services, must be affordable for all. The direct and indirect costs and charges associated with securing water must be affordable, and must not compromise or threaten the realization of other rights, particularly the right to adequate food;

(iii) Non-discrimination: Water and water facilities and services must be accessible to all, including the most vulnerable or marginalized sections of the population, in law and in fact, without discrimination; and

(iv) Information accessibility: accessibility includes the right to seek, receive and impart information concerning water issues.

  • All Governments – Federal, State, Territory, and Local – to take steps to remove de facto discrimination, interference, barriers by which individuals and groups are deprived of the means or entitlements necessary for achieving the right to water. Such discrimination, interference, barrier may include lack of investment in facilities in remote communities; failure to update facilities in small or remote communities.
  • All Governments – Federal State, Territory or Local - should ensure that the allocation of water resources, and investments in water, facilitate access to water for all members of society. Inappropriate resource allocation can lead to discrimination that may not be overt.
  • Water investments should not favour expensive water supply services and facilities that may, for practical purpose, be only accessible to a small, privileged fraction of the population, rather than investing in services and facilities that benefit a far larger part of the population.
  • Children must not be prevented from enjoying their human rights due to lack of adequate water in educational institutions and households. Provision of adequate water to educational institutions, including provision of refrigerated water in tropical climates, without adequate drinking water should be addressed urgently;
  • Rural and deprived urban areas must have access to properly maintained water facilities. Access to traditional water sources in rural areas should be protected from unlawful encroachment and pollution. Deprived urban areas, including informal human settlements, and homeless persons, should have access to properly maintained water facilities. No household should be denied the right to water on the grounds of their housing or land status;
  • Indigenous peoples’ access to water resources on their ancestral and traditional lands must be protected from encroachment and unlawful pollution. Governments should provide resources for indigenous peoples to design, deliver and control their access to water;
  • Groups facing difficulties with physical access to water, such as older persons, persons with disabilities, victims of natural disasters, persons living in disaster-prone areas, and those living in arid and semi-arid areas, or on small islands must be provided with safe and sufficient water.
  • The right to water, like any human right, imposes four types of obligations on Government: obligations to respect, obligations to protect, obligations to fulfil and obligations to promote.

Ø The obligation to respect requires that governments refrain from interfering directly or indirectly with the enjoyment of the right to water. The obligation includes, inter alia, refraining from engaging in any practice or activity that denies or limits equal access to adequate water; arbitrarily interfering with customary or traditional arrangements for water allocation; unlawfully diminishing or polluting water, for example through waste or through use and testing of weapons; and limiting access to, or destroying, water services and infrastructure as a punitive measure, for example, during armed conflicts in violation of international humanitarian law.

Ø The obligation to protect means Government need to prevent third parties from interfering in any way with the enjoyment of the right to water. Third parties include individuals, groups, corporations and other entities as well as agents acting under their authority. The obligation includes, inter alia, adopting the necessary and effective legislative and other measures to restrain, for example, third parties from denying equal access to adequate water; and polluting and inequitably extracting from water resources, including natural sources, wells and other water distribution systems. Where water services (such as piped water networks, water tankers, access to rivers and wells) are operated or controlled by third parties, governments must prevent them from compromising equal, affordable, and physical access to sufficient, safe and acceptable water. To prevent such abuses an effective regulatory system must be established, in conformity with the Covenant and this General Comment, which includes independent monitoring, genuine public participation and imposition of penalties for non-compliance.

Ø The obligation to fulfil places on Governments the obligations to facilitate, promote and provide. The obligation to facilitate requires the Governments to take positive measures to assist individuals and communities to enjoy the right to water.

Ø The obligation to promote obliges Governments to take steps to ensure that there is appropriate education concerning the hygienic use of water, protection of water sources and methods to minimize water wastage. Governments are also obliged to fulfil (provide) the right when individuals or a group are unable, for reasons beyond their control, to realize that right themselves by the means at their disposal.

· Governments should adopt comprehensive and integrated strategies and programmes to ensure that there is sufficient and safe water for present and future generations. Such strategies and programmes may include:

o (a) reducing depletion of water resources through unsustainable extraction, diversion and damming;

o (b) reducing and eliminating contamination of watersheds and water-related eco-systems by substances such as radiation, harmful chemicals, industrial discharge, human excreta and farm runoff;

o (c) monitoring water reserves;

o (d) ensuring that proposed developments do not interfere with access to adequate water;

o (e) assessing the impacts of actions that may impinge upon water availability and natural-ecosystems watersheds, such as climate changes, desertification and increased soil salinity, deforestation and loss of biodiversity;

o (f) increasing the efficient use of water by end-users;

o (g) reducing water wastage in its distribution;

o (h) response mechanisms for emergency situations; and

o (i) establishing competent institutions and appropriate institutional arrangements to carry out the strategies and programmes.

· All victims of violations of the right to water should be entitled to adequate reparation, including restitution, compensation, satisfaction or guarantees of non-repetition. National ombudsmen, human rights commissions, and similar institutions should be permitted to address violations of the right.

  • Citizens and residents have the right to hold governments, government agencies and instrumentalities and similar organisations as well as corporations accountable for environmental degradation impacting on food and the rights outlined herein.