Jul 29 2010
In very general terms, the United Nations General Assembly on July 28 declared a human right to water.
No nations voted against, but about 40, including the United States, abstained, mainly on grounds that the state could undercut efforts in Geneva aimed at improving access to water internationally.
The United States statement on its abstention, delivered by John F. Sammis, U.S. Deputy Representative to the Economic and Social Council, said:
The United States supports the work of the UN Human Rights Council’s Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation. In fact, we co-sponsored the resolution on Human Rights and Access to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation last September at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. We look forward to receiving the next report of the Independent Expert. We also look forward to a more inclusive, considered, and deliberative approach to these vital issues in Geneva than we have unfortunately experienced on this resolution in New York.
And I would just add to my prepared remarks that these concerns are not alleviated by the fact that just this morning, we have seen an amendment made to what the lead sponsor viewed as the core operative paragraph of the resolution from the floor. This again is an imposition on all of us. We haven’t had sufficient time to really consider the implications of this, and I think that it would have been far better, under the circumstances, not to bring this resolution forward for action today.
The United States had hoped to negotiate and ultimately join consensus on this text, on a text, that would uphold and support the international process underway at the Human Rights Council. Instead, we have here a resolution that falls far short of enjoying the unanimous support of member States and may even undermine the work underway in Geneva. This resolution describes a right to water and sanitation in a way that is not reflective of existing international law; as there is no “right to water and sanitation” in an international legal sense as described by this resolution.
The United States regrets that this resolution diverts us from the serious international efforts underway to promote greater coordination and cooperation on water and sanitation issues.
Safe and clean drinking water and sanitation is a human right essential to the full enjoyment of life and all other human rights, the General Assembly declared today, voicing deep concern that almost 900 million people worldwide do not have access to clean water.
The 192-member Assembly also called on United Nations Member States and international organizations to offer funding, technology and other resources to help poorer countries scale up their efforts to provide clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for everyone.
The Assembly resolution received 122 votes in favour and zero votes against, while 41 countries abstained from voting.
The text of the resolution expresses deep concern that an estimated 884 million people lack access to safe drinking water and a total of more than 2.6 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation. Studies also indicate about 1.5 million children under the age of five die each year and 443 million school days are lost because of water- and sanitation-related diseases.
Today’s resolution also welcomes the UN Human Rights Council’s request that Catarina de Albuquerque, the UN Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation, report annually to the General Assembly as well.
Ms. de Albuquerque’s report will focus on the principal challenges to achieving the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation, as well as on progress towards the relevant Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The MDGs, a series of targets for reducing social and economic ills, all by 2015, includes the goals of halving the proportion of people who cannot reach or afford safe drinking water and halving the number who do not have basic sanitation.
In a related development, Ms. de Albuquerque issued a statement today after wrapping up a nine-day official visit to Japan in which she praised the country for its nearly universal access to water and sanitation and for its use of innovative technologies to promote hygiene and treat wastewater.
But the Independent Expert said she was shocked that some members of the Utoro community near Kyoto, where Koreans have been living for several generations, still do not have access to water from the public network.
Also: The 2010 report of the Global Annual Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water (GLAAS), a UN-Water initiative implemented by the World Health Organization, has just been released.