MANY governments around the world pay only lip service to the problem of water and sanitation thereby denying an essential human right to their populations. Though governments attest to the importance of water and sanitation as evidenced by MDG on water and sanitation, they make very little investment in the sector. The matter is rarely given prominence on national political agendas.
Water as a human right refers to the human right to safe water and adequate sanitation without which the enjoyment of other essential human rights can be jeopardized. The availability of safe drinking water and hygienic sanitation facilities can indeed play a key role in the fight against poverty, hunger, child deaths and gender inequality.
According to the UN, over 1,100 million people do not have access to safe drinking water and over 2,600 million have no access to adequate sanitation. To complicate matters, water sources throughout the world are drying up, chiefly due to climate change and the mismanagement of water resources.
Dirty water and lack of sanitation affects mainly the poor, disadvantaged and voiceless in society, that is, women, girls and children.
Approximately, 1,8 million children die every year to diarrhea because of lack of access to clean water, more than AIDS, malaria and measles combined. More than 50 percent of the cases occur in Africa and Asia despite the existence of inexpensive and efficient means of water treatment.
“In the developing world, 24,000 children under the age of five die every day from preventable causes like diarrhea contracted from unclean water,” said Caryl M. Stern, President and CEO, the U.S. Fund for UNICEF at the launch of a report, titled “Diarrhea: Why Children Are Still Dying and What Can Be Done“.
“It is truly a tragedy that these deaths take place since inexpensive and effective treatments for diarrhea already exist.
In addition, women and girls, particularly in Africa, have to walk long distances to fetch water for household use and consumption. This not only perpetuates gender inequality but can expose women and girls to violence. Women and girls, particularly in remote and rural areas lose valuable time (which they could otherwise utilise for their own personal development) looking for water.
While water and basic sanitation are regarded as peripheral, and in some cases individual concern, it is clear that their enjoyment or lack of thereof directly impinge on human rights. In many parts of Africa, girls for example are forced to miss school because they have to spend hours looking for water thereby getting denied an education and consequently opportunity in life.
In fact, poverty and inequality lie at the very heart of poor access to water and sanitation. Communities with little or no say in the political process suffer the most.
“Denying the enjoyment of the human right to water has very serious consequences for human development, conflicts, inequality, the environment, health, housing, education and poverty,” states UNESCO Extea report titled, “The Human Right to Water: Current Situations and Future Challenges”.
According to the report, the “ … human right to water has been semi-hidden as content integrated with other rights, like the right to food, to housing and to health.”
“Progress in recent years has shown that such a situation of ‘dependency’ is insufficient for such an important right,” adds the report.
Governments around the world, particularly in developing countries, need to recognize that access to clean water proper sanitation to the human rights and personal dignity of every woman, man and child on earth.