April 22, 2012
The United Nations has declared water a basic human right, saying that “the human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses.” Many hold similar views as the UN, while others differ in opinion and think water is a privilege not a right. As the human population increases alongside the demand for clean, safe sources of water, this issue will only escalate in significance and severity. Humanity as a whole must answer the question: Is water a privilege or a right?
Currently access to safe drinking water is not universal. With almost 900 million people lacking access and more than 1.5 million children annually dying due to this reason, the United Nations has recognized clean water and sanitation as “integral to the realization of all human rights.” Providing access to drinking water does not have a simple solution; when dealing with the right of humans to access water: political, social, economic, and industrial changes are needed. At the 2011 United College London (UCL) Annual Conference, the issue of water security was brought up and concluded that the global North cannot simply expect the South to generate access to clean drinking water. For the most part water abuse comes from the North and the South is the region in need of more clean drinking water. Many believe the global North should treat water as a commodity since they tend to overuse water and are not penalized for doing so. With this implementation, water may be better conserved in the North which may help the South receive economic deductions to increase clean water access.
Many take the opposite view on this issue, arguing that water is a privilege and treating water as such does not violate basic human rights. Specifically, some take the stance that water is a simple human need, not a right we all hold. One argument that supports this stance is water privatization. Some believe that the government should not hold the responsibility for providing adequate water to its civilians. Because the privatization of water has been successful before, where companies control the supply and accessibility to water, people cannot assume they are entitled to clean water without paying a price. Also, it is arguable that the number of people living in the world today without access to clean drinking water is proof enough that water is a privilege not a right. History has shown that many people do not have access to safe drinking water, and this issue will only become more severe as human population increases alongside demand. In fact, the number of people currently without access to clean drinking water totals the number of people living in the US, Canada, Argentina, Chile, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, France, Germany, England, Italy, Spain, Japan, Australia and Norway. Thus, critics argue that water is a privilege, because it is not sustainable to treat water as a right where it will become more difficult to supply as we progress into the future.
For those who see water as a privilege, their idea generally revolves around keeping sustainability of the resource. We see water being abused daily through agriculture and private consumption. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, water is a basic physiological right that is essential for survival. Allowing people access to clean drinking water would not set up a system of abuse, but would rather create a need for stricter guidelines. Fracking for example could become a safer practice after the creation of more regulation, because the risk of water source contamination would decrease as water quality and technology improve. If water is granted to everyone, we would see a growing need for protection. Consequently, the enforcement of stricter guidelines and policies would be needed to ensure the well-being of mankind.
Connor Schroeder and Albert Perez are undergraduates in the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.