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ARTICLE 19 highlights importance of freedom of expression and free flow of information in right to water agenda

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 22 March 2011 - On the occasion of World Water Day, ARTICLE 19 reminds the international community that freedom of expression, the free flow of information and transparency are central to the full realisation of the right to water. The watershed developments in the right to water campaign over the past year particularly, demonstrate that the realisation of the right to water necessitates transparency and accountability, the recognition of the right of communities and individual consumers to raise concerns and complaints and seek remedies without fear, and a free and independent media, providing key information to people affected and reporting about water related practices and policies. Local initiatives and community participation, particularly amongst poor and marginalised people, also need to be fostered in order to promote transparency, accountability and good governance related to water management.

Right to water today

On World Water Day 2011, one billion people lack access to clean water or sanitation. Twenty seven countries are affected by severe water scarcity, and Yemen may be the first country to be dry by 2020. Such water poverty has led to increased health problems and diseases. It has undermined economic development by stifling agriculture and industries that rely on water. Poor and vulnerable groups are often denied the right to participate in water related decisions and policies that concern them, with often serious results: large dams for water supply and irrigation have forcibly displaced tens of thousands, even millions, across many places around the world, such as India, Mauritania or Brazil. Water scarcity drives conflict in Israel/Palestine, around Lake Chad, and along the Danube, Senegal and Mekong rivers, amongst others. The World Health Organization estimates that fresh water will be the focus of intense political disputes in the coming decade and will become the natural resource most likely to cause armed conflicts in the 21st century.

The right to water is not yet enshrined in a binding treaty. However, several international treaties contain explicit reference to safe drinking water and sanitation, such as the 1972 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the 2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and others. Also, more than 100 countries have a right to a clean and healthy environment in their constitutions. International commitments related to the right to water have been also made through the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), one of which aims to halve the proportion of people who are unable to reach or to afford safe drinking water by 2015. Meeting the targets on water and sanitation would also contribute significantly to the realisation of other MDGs, including reducing poverty, promoting gender equality, reducing child and maternal mortality and providing universal primary education.

The year of 2010 was a watershed year for the right to water movement. For the first time, both the UN General Assembly (in the Resolution 64/ 292 of 28 July 2010) and the UN Human Rights Council (in the Resolution Human Rights and Access to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation of 30 September 2010) affirmed that the human right to water and sanitation is legally binding. The Human Rights Council resolution states that "the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation is derived from the right to an adequate standard of living and inextricably related to the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, as well as the right to life and human dignity." As stated by the UN Independent Expert on human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque, the resolution signifies that "The right to water and sanitation is a human right, equal to all other human rights, which implies that it is justifiable and enforceable."

The resolution also states clearly that the delegation of the delivery of safe drinking water and/or sanitation services to a third party does not exempt the State from its human rights obligations. It also calls on states to ensure full transparency of the planning and implementation process in the provision of safe drinking water and sanitation and the active, free and meaningful participation of the concerned local communities and relevant stakeholders. It further highlights the need for grievances, accountability and redress mechanisms.

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To read the full press release, click here

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