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Resolution on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation

On Thursday, 22 July 2010, a historic UN General Assembly resolution titled “The Human Right to Water and Sanitation” was tabled by 31 co-sponsoring member states and the government of Bolivia. Since its entry into informal consultations earlier this month, Jessica, Mary, and Catherine have been working  hard alongside the Blue Planet Project to generate awareness and support for this resolution.

Over the past two weeks, we have met with experts from over 50 permanent missions to the United Nations to learn more about their national positions, to discuss the resolution text, and to offer our perspective on the issue. From the start, it was clear that the United States and Canada would not support the resolution, despite the fact that a majority of their citizens enjoy the right to water and sanitation already. Mikhail Gorbachev, former leader of the Soviet Union, alluded to these positions in his New York Times op-ed piece titled “The Right to Water,” while stressing that a lack of consensus should not defer recognition of these rights. The inclusion of sanitation also compelled countries like the United Kingdom and Switzerland to oppose it, which sparked significant concern on our end that the European Union would consensually block the resolution.

As the issue polarized member states into North and South groups, we realized that much work remained to be done by us and civil society at-large to draw attention to this divide. Why should big countries with resources deny them to small countries without resources, especially if the right to water is inherent to the right to life? Maude Barlow, former Senior Advisor to the President of the General Assembly, decried wealthy countries on this point in her article for The Guardian UK, “Access to clean water is most violated human right.” With all of this in mind, we continued to pressure member states, particularly those in the European Union, to prepare for a vote since the Second Committee of the General Assembly works more regularly in consensus.

UNANIMA also played an integral role in rallying NGO action around the resolution. Following an information and strategy meeting with several New York-based United Nations NGOs, we also met with the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) and Amnesty International. Together with the Blue Planet Project,we  helped coordinate a briefing titled “The Millennium Development Goals and the Human Right to Water.” Catherine Ferguson, Director of UNANIMA, was one of the featured speakers and provided a grassroots perspective and United Nations context for this resolution. Her talk is available for download in the Water section of our website (English only). Other speakers included Bolivian Ambassador Pablo Solon and Maude Barlow (on the global water movement). The briefing was moderated by Anil Naidoo of the Blue Planet Project and Rachel Harris from WEDO.

The final vote on this resolution was held on Wednesday, 28 July 2010. It passed with a large majority: 122 – Yes; 0 – No; 42 – Abstain. The final text can be found in the Water section of our website (currently English only).