Friday, November 23, 2012

IPS: Human Right to Water and Sanitation

Human Right to Water and Sanitation Remains a Political Mirage

Indigenous women hauling water in Chiapas, Mexico. Credit: Mauricio Ramos/IPS
Indigenous women hauling water in Chiapas, Mexico. Credit: Mauricio Ramos/IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 1 2012 (IPS) - When the 193-member General Assembly, the U.N.’s highest policy-making body, declared water and sanitation a basic human right back in July 2010, the adoption of that divisive resolution was hailed by many as a “historic” achievement.

But as the international community commemorated the second anniversary of that resolution last week, there was hardly any political rejoicing either inside or outside the United Nations.

“This human right is yet to be fully implemented,” complained a coalition of 15 international non-governmental organisations (NGOs), whose members describe themselves as “water justice activists”.

Demanding concrete action by individual governments, the coalition said, “As members of the global water justice movement, we are deeply concerned to see little progress being made towards the full implementation of this right.”

In a letter sent to member states, the 15 organisations said that as “governments aggressively pursue false solutions to the environmental and economic crises, the situation will only deepen the water injustices that our organisations and communities have been fighting for decades.”

The coalition includes the Council of Canadians, the Blue Planet Project, Food and Water Watch, National Alliance of People’s Movement of India, People’s Coalition for the Right to Water in Indonesia and Food and Water Europe.

The organisations, in collaboration with the Blue Planet Project, have produced a series of reports examining key obstacles to the implementation of the human right to water in several countries, including Argentina, Ecuador, Canada, Colombia, Indonesia, India, Palestine, the United States and countries in Europe.

In March, the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO) released a joint report claiming that the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water (spelled out under Goal 7 on environmental sustainability) has been reached well in advance of the 2015 deadline.

“Today, we recognise a great achievement for people of the world,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, with a tinge of pride, pointing out that “this is one of the first MDG targets to be met.”

At the end of 2010, 89 percent of the world’s population, or 6.1 billion people, used improved drinking water sources, such as piped supplies and protected wells, according to the study titled “Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation 2012.”

This is one percent more than the 88 percent MDG target. And by 2015, about 92 percent of the global population will have access to improved drinking water, says the report released by the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation.

A cautious UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake warned that victory could not yet be declared since at least 11 percent of the world’s population – roughly around 783 million people – are still without access to safe drinking water, and billions without sanitation facilities.

Tom Slaymaker, senior policy analyst at the London-based WaterAid, told IPS it is too early to say that the resolution on the human right to water has failed in its implementation.

“But two years on we have not yet seen the sort of step change in effort needed to reverse the historical neglect of water and, more particularly, sanitation in international development cooperation,” he added.
Slaymaker said the second “High Level Meeting of Sanitation and Water for All Partnership”, in April 2012, offered encouraging signs of increased political attention to the problem.

“But the resulting government commitments to get countries off-track to achieve the sanitation MDG back on track to meet the target in 2015 need to be backed up with the required financial resources to make progressive realisation of the human right to water and sanitation a reality,” he said.

A further key test, he pointed out, will be the extent to which emerging goals for development in the post MDG era take account of obligations relating to the human right to water and sanitation and set ambitious new targets for achieving universal access.

The resolution in the General Assembly proved politically divisive, with 122 countries voting for it and 41 abstaining, but with no negative votes.

The United States abstained and so did some of the European and industrialised countries, including Britain, Australia, Austria, Canada, Greece, Sweden, Japan, Israel, South Korea, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Ireland.

But several developing nations, mostly from Africa, also abstained on the vote, siding with rich industrial countries.

These included Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Zambia, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.
In its letter, the NGO coalition said the recently concluded Rio+20 summit on sustainable development affirmed “full and unquestioned consensus among UN Member States regarding the human right to water and sanitation”.

“We are therefore demanding the full implementation of this vital human right, and remedies to the tremendous obstacles we are facing in all of our regions,” the letter added.

The letter refers to several regional chapters in a new report titled “Our Right to Water: A People’s Guide to Implementing the United Nations’ Recognition of Water and Sanitation as a Human Right” authored by Maude Barlow, chairperson of the Council of Canadians and former senior advisor on water to the 63rd president of the United Nations General Assembly.

These reports, the letters says, provide several regionally-specific recommendations to ensure the progressive realization of the human right to water and sanitation.

IPS News Agency: Fixing the 'Silent' Sanitation Crisis

Fixing the ‘Silent’ Sanitation Crisis

Nearly 2.5 billion people around the world don’t have access to sanitation. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS
Nearly 2.5 billion people around the world don’t have access to sanitation. Credit: Charles Mpaka/IPS

GENEVA, Nov 18 2012 (IPS) - Organisers of this year’s World Toilet Day, which falls on Nov. 19, are using the slogan ‘I give a shit – do you?’ to break the silence around the crucial issue of sanitation and remind the international community that 2.5 billion people around the world don’t have access to clean and private toilets.

Improving these figures, and achieving the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the number of people without basic sanitation by 2015, needs a change of mindset and strong political will, not financial resources, campaigners say.

“(One and a half) billion people, or 15 percent of the world’s population, are still defecating in the open. Of the MDG targets for 2015, sanitation is the furthest off track… (At) the current rate it will only be reached in 2026,” Saskia Castelein, advocacy and communications officer at the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) told IPS.

This Geneva-based organisation, created by a United Nations resolution, was responsible for making sanitation an MDG target at the 2002 Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development.

“In the last ten years, sanitation has made a lot of progress in terms of awareness and community approaches,” Castelein continued. An increasing number of “people and organisations are working around the issue and (are using) the MDG framework to lobby governments. Now there is more money, but challenges are still enormous.”

Jack Sim, founder of the World Toilet Organisation and initiator of World Toilet Day, is of the opinion that “What we don’t discuss, we can’t improve.”

Sim has been instrumental in putting the issue of sanitation on the international agenda.

“Over the last 12 years, World Toilet Day has become an amazing movement for everyone to support better toilets and sanitation conditions around the world. It has also become a day of creativity as people all over the globe celebrate it in their own style,” he added.

Much progress has been made in India, China and other parts of East Asia, with China being the most likely to meet the goal on time.

But most of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are still riddled with problems, with only three countries – Botswana, Cape Verde and Angola – on track.

She argues that policymakers are reluctant to bring such an “unglamorous topic” into the limelight and governments are hesitant to interfere in this most private aspect of people’s lives.

Meanwhile cultural customs and habits are compounding the problem.

“In some places, it is a social tradition to defecate in the open,” a practice that often leads to the spread of diseases like cholera and typhoid, she said.

Diarrhoeal diseases, a direct consequence of poor sanitation, are the second most common cause of death among young children in developing countries, killing more than HIV/AIDS, malaria and measles combined, and resulting in one death every 20 seconds.

Thus, experts argue, improving sanitation in the developing would also expedite the fourth MDG – improving child health and reducing under-five mortality by two-thirds in the next three years.

Reluctance to embrace modern sanitation can be solved by “a community-driven approach,” Castelein said, with development practitioners going from village to village and “training the trainers” on the importance of proper sanitation.

According to Castelein, there is no need to invest millions of dollars into building water-flush toilets all over the world – all that is needed is a global effort to promote basic hygiene by educating people about simple steps like washing their hands with ash, which is a good disinfectant.

Many people, particularly in the developing world, are unaware that sanitation was proclaimed a basic human right by the U.N. general assembly in 2010. Increased awareness of this right could push people to pressure their governments to provide proper facilities.

Campaigners also point out that proper sanitation facilities are crucial for women and girls during menstruation; according to a study by Plan India, 23 percent of Indian girls drop out of school when they reach puberty. World Toilet Day demands safe and appropriate toilet facilities to keep them in school, thus overlapping with the MDG of eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education.


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