The editorial below was published in the NY Times on July 16. I have edited it down to the most relevant sections. To read the whole thing, CLICK HERE
July 16, 2010
The Right to Water
By MIKHAIL GORBACHEV
The right of every human being to safe drinking water and basic sanitation should be recognized and realized.
The United Nations estimates that nearly 900 million people live without clean water and 2.6 billion without proper sanitation. Water, the basic ingredient of life, is among the world’s most prolific killers. At least 4,000 children die every day from water-related diseases. In fact, more lives have been lost after World War II due to contaminated water than from all forms of violence and war.
This humanitarian catastrophe has been allowed to fester for generations. We must stop it.
Acknowledging that access to safe water and sanitation is a human right is crucial to the ongoing struggle to save these lives; it is an idea that has come of age.
This month, for the first time, the U.N. General Assembly is preparing to vote on a historic resolution declaring the human right to “safe and clean drinking water and sanitation.” It is a pivotal opportunity.
So far, 190 states have acknowledged — directly or indirectly — the human right to safe water and sanitation. In 2007, leaders from the Asia-Pacific region recognized safe drinking water and basic sanitation as human rights and fundamental aspects of security. In March, the European Union affirmed that all states must adhere to their human rights commitments in regard to safe drinking water.
Not all nations are on board, however. The United States and Canada are among the very few that have not formally embraced the right to safe water. Their continued reluctance to officially recognize the right to water should be questioned, not least by their own citizens. President Barack Obama’s national security strategy calls for furthering human rights and sustainable development around the world; that goal should be translated into support for access to water as a human right.
Failures to provide water and sanitation are failures of governance. Recognizing that water is a human right is not merely a conceptual point; it is about getting the job done and actually making clean water widely available. We must clarify the obligation of governments to finance and carry out projects that bring these services to those who need them most.
A “water apartheid” has descended across the world — dividing rich from poor, included from excluded. Efforts to redress this disparity are failing.
Expanding access to water and sanitation will open many other development bottlenecks. Water and sanitation are vital to everything from education to health to population control. As population growth and climate change increase the pressure for adequate water and food, water will increasingly become a security issue. As global temperatures rise, “water refugees” will increase. Water touches everything, and strong collaboration among all sectors of society — governments, activists, farmers and the business and science communities — is needed to increase its availability.
Making access to water and sanitation a daily reality is good business, and good for the world economy. According to the U.N. Environment Program, a $20 million investment in low-cost water technologies could help 100 million farming families escape extreme poverty. Dedicating $15 billion a year to the water and sanitation millennium goals could bring $38 billion a year in global economic benefits. That’s a pretty good rate of return in today’s financial climate. It is within our grasp for the first time.
Mikhail Gorbachev was the leader of the Soviet Union from 1985 until its dissolution in 1991. He is a founding member of Green Cross International and is on its board.