Is Water a Human Right?

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Is Water a Human Right?

“Access to safe water is a fundamental human need and, therefore, a basic human right. Contaminated water jeopardizes both the physical and social health of all people. It is an affront to human dignity.” — Kofi Annan, prior United Nations Secretary-General

… If only the issue of water as a human right was as simple as Kofi Annan’s perspective.

A world where humans have a well defined set of undeniable rights is an important goal for this generation. But aside from rights, the human race has a more dire set of biological needs that it must secure in order to survive. When someone is denied a right, they suffer. When someone is denied a need, they die.

Air, food and water are the most fundamental needs of the human species — and none of these are indicated as absolute rights of the entire population of Earth. If we are going to work towards a future that enables humans to possess certain rights, we must first consider these biological needs as their undeniable foundation.

In this article, we will focus on the concept of water as a human right and whether governments are the most fit entities to provide water, and rights to that water. In our research, we have determined that there is no implicit statement or international treaty that asserts — absolutely — that human beings have a right to water, and we recognize this as a leading symptom of our species’ suffering condition.

On a positive note, we whole-heartedly believe that it is possible to provide safe drinking water, in quality and quantity, to every human on Earth. We also believe that accomplishing this will be a fundamental step towards actualizing all human rights and alleviating global poverty.

The United Nations Committee on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights could not have stated it more clearly:

“Water is fundamental for life and health. The human right to water is indispensable for leading a healthy life in human dignity. It is a pre-requisite to the realization of all other human rights.”

The status quo

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (aka the IUCN or the World Conservation Union) prepared a 60-page report in 2005 that estimated more than one billion people lack safe drinking water and that between 14,000 and 30,000 people die every day from avoidable water-related diseases. These numbers, today, are very bleak, but the projected numbers for the year 2025 are even more severe. The IUCN report estimates that in less than 20 years, two-thirds of Earth’s population will be living with severe water shortages, or almost no water at all. Two of my closest friends just had their first daughter. The projection cited means that before she is an adult, two out of three humans on planet Earth might not have access to drinkable water. I am invested in this research because I don’t want that to be a reality for her.

United Nations Millennium Declaration

The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that resulted from the 2000 summit make up — in Wishtank’s eye — the most essential agenda that humanity has to work with today. We find hope in the fact that all 192 United Nations member states have adopted these goals, and agreed to work towards their fulfillment. The year 2003 was identified by the United Nations as the International Year of Freshwater, and member states focused on certain components of the Millennium Development Goal to “achieve environmental sustainability.” These include halving, by the year 2015 “the proportion of people who are unable to reach, or to afford, safe drinking water” and ending “the unsustainable exploitation of water resources.”

The Millennium Development Goals, in their entirety, can be found at

So, while these millennium goals instill hope, in reality, they are merely mutually accepted goals on paper. These goals are not laws, nor are they binding in any sort of way, nor do they...
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