Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Right to Water

The international "right to water" was more or less formalized in the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights back in 2002 when General Comment No. 15 was adopted.  It was a generalized statement at that time, but in the intervening years it has begun to catch on and today certain political and social efforts are beginning to focus on realizing this ideal - at least in some specific contexts and places.  While some celebrate these fledgling efforts as ensuring fair access to basic resources, others question the means and direction of the concept altogether.

I guess I'm in between.  While I likely agree with the underlying ideal that every living soul on earth should have a basic right to enough water to at least sustain its living existence, I'm lost in the many, many periperal issues that also must be addressed.  Does this position include a right to the well or diversion device needed to get the water?  The transmisson system to distribute it?  The treatment plant to purify it?  Who assumes the responsibility to provide and manage these individual rights?  If we are all to have a truely "inalienable right" to domestic water, there should be no monetary cost to us, should there?  If there is, it has to be so inexpensive as to not exclude anyone.  With water that cheap, what's to prevent people from wasting it?  Who decides if I need 25, 50, 75 liters/day or more?

My conclusion:  As right and moral as it may be, this is a very tricky concept with so too many logistics to ever become the rule rather than the exception.  It will take the unquestioning adoption of a completely new, universal mindset, which, by the way, will require virtually every existing mindset to change radically.  Heck, we can do that!

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