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Water is essential for human life and all life on earth. It is a vital public health need. Water has cultural significance beyond its health and environmental value. Water is not and should not be a commodity to be bought and sold as merchandise in the market place. Rather, the global water supply is a shared legacy and a public trust. Water is an increasingly scarce natural resource, and as a result is crucial to the security of all societies and sovereignty of nations around the world. For this reason alone, its ownership, control, management and distribution belong in the public domain.
Therefore, each member of the human community has the right to accessible, affordable water in quantity and quality sufficient to life and basic economic activities.
Water is a natural resource that should be used judiciously and preserved for the common good of all peoples and ecosystems on this planet. Healthy ecosystems ensure the human right to water for future generations.
The 2002 General Comment No. 15 of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, confirms water to be a human right. It describes “The human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses. An adequate amount of safe water is necessary to prevent death from dehydration, reduce the risk of water-related disease and provide for consumption, cooking, personal and domestic hygienic requirements”.
On 28 July 2010, through Resolution 64/292, the United Nations General Assembly explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realisation of all human rights. The Resolution calls upon States and international organisations to provide financial resources, help capacity-building and technology transfer to help countries, in particular developing countries, to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all.
What does this right entail? Water and Sanitation in this context means it must be:
The water supply for each person must be sufficient and continuous for personal and domestic uses. These uses ordinarily include drinking, personal sanitation, washing of clothes, food preparation, personal and household hygiene.
The water required for each personal or domestic use must be safe, therefore free from micro-organisms, chemical substances and radiological hazards that constitute a threat to a person's health.
Water should be of an acceptable colour, odour and taste for each personal or domestic use. All water facilities and services must be culturally appropriate and sensitive to gender, lifecycle and privacy requirements.
Accessible (= physically accessible)
Everyone has the right to a water and sanitation service that is physically accessible within, or in the immediate vicinity of the household, educational institution, workplace or health institution.
Water, and water facilities and services, must be affordable for all. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) suggests that water costs should not exceed 3 per cent of household income.
More information and background documentation can be found on this UN website.