Are safe water and toilets reserved for rich people only?

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The UN says that access to water and sanitation is a human right … so why aren’t we seeing any action?

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by Baher Kamal
Human Wrongs Watch, July 30, 2011

The so-called international community must be either bored or out of this planet. Otherwise it would not have wasted years and years in expensive meetings and lengthy discussions before ending up, twelve months ago, with an indisputable and undisputed finding—that safe water and sanitation is a ‘human right’!

A whole year after, and now that the governments of rich countries have done good part of what seems to be now their job, i.e., rescuing big banks and corporations, there are still 2,6 billion people who lack access to basic sanitation, and 1,1 billion do not any at all, while 900 million people worldwide are deprived from clean water, according to the United Nations.

UN reports also indicate that 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.

‘Critical To Ensure A Life Of Dignity And Freedom’

In fact, the UN General Assembly adopted on July 28th, 2010 a resolution declaring that safe and clean drinking water and sanitation is a human right essential to the full enjoyment of life and all other human rights.

“For millions of people, access to safe water and sanitation is an urgent need for development,” UN General Assembly President Joseph Deiss said on that occasion.

“The human right to water and sanitation is critical to ensure that everyone has a life of dignity and freedom,” he added.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon stressed that the task at hand is to translate the commitment to provide access to clean water and adequate sanitation into action.

‘Yes, It’s A Human Rights, But This Does Not Mean That Water Should Be Free’

“Let us be clear,” the UN chief stated, “a right to water and sanitation does not mean that water should be free. Rather, it means that water and sanitation services should be affordable and available for all … and that States must do everything in their power to make this happen.”

Here, some obliged, immediate questions arise: “how come? aren’t human rights free of charge?” Hasn’t Ban Ki-moon said “We must reach all those who are denied the water and sanitation services that are necessary for their dignity and well-being”? Should they be charged for that?

122 Countries In Favour And 41 Abstained… What About The Other 29 states?

By the way, the UN says that the General Assembly resolution received 122 votes in favour and zero votes against, while 41 countries abstained from voting.

Does this mean that 41 countries were not sure whether safe water and sanitation is a human right?

And then, what about the other 29 countries out of a total 192 member states by then, that do not appear as voting in favour or abstaining?

UN Launches A ‘Major Push’

Anyhow, eleven months after the resolution was adopted, UN what it called “a major push to improve global sanitation by 2015.”

In fact, the UN said on June 21st this year that the “major push” was intended “to accelerate progress towards the goal of halving, by 2015, the proportion of the population without access to basic sanitation.”

Open Delectation, The Most Dangerous Practice For Public Health

The UN recalled that the General Assembly adopted last December a resolution adopted General Assembly in a resolution calling, among other things, for an end to open defecation, the most dangerous sanitation practice for public health and one practised by over 1.1 billion people who have no access to facilities.

“Sanitation is a sensitive issue. It is an unpopular subject. Perhaps that is why the sanitation crisis has not been met with the kind of response we need,” Ban Ki-moon said.

‘It Will Not Be Easy…’

“But that must change,” he added. “It is time to put sanitation and access to proper toilets at the centre of our development discussions.”

Ending open defecation, in particular, will not be easy, said the UN secretary general, adding that it will require strong political commitment, a focused policy framework and reliable supply chains for both building and maintaining affordable latrines.

… Though It Is Killing 1.2 Million Children Under Five… Each Year

Children under five are the most vulnerable to poor hygiene and inadequate sanitation, two of the major causes of diarrhoea. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the disease kills at least 1.2 million children under five each year.

“We can reduce cases of diarrhoea in children under five by a third – and save an untold number of young lives – simply by expanding the access of communities to sanitation,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF’s Executive Director.

The UN children fund chief added that focusing on total hygiene does more than improve health. “It can also improve the safety of women and girls, who are often targeted when they are alone outdoors. And providing safe, private toilets may also help girls stay in school – which we know can increase their future earnings and help break the cycle of poverty.”

If it is so, what this ‘international community’ –-so eager as it says to protect human rights and promote gender equality– is waiting for then?