Recognition of a Basic Human Right: Right to Clean Water

Traces of human rights discussions of water as a basic human right have been documented in the history of the United Nations’ conference on water, in 1977. Yet, the recognition of water as a basic human right has led to a dilemma for several countries across the globe. There is an expressed need for the right to clean water, which should be included as a human right in the universal declaration of human rights at the U.N. Governments across the globe should be accountable for their recognition of right to clean water as a basic human right, and guarantee an adequate supply of water per day for drinking and other domestic purposes (Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario, 2010).

            On July 2010, the General Assembly of the United Nations proposed a resolution to consider water as a basic human right, which was not approved by many of the developed countries of the world, including Canada and the U.S. The developed countries fear sharing their resources,and if they endorsed water as a human right, they would be obligated to assist countries in need of water through exportation of this resource at a prohibitive cost (RNAO, 2010). However, globalization has had a major impact one very country in conceptualizing water as a basic human right. The dilemma over the concession of this human right is that globalization has also had the effect of increasing the debt load on developing countries depending on loans,as a result of the World Bank’s policies, making it harder for them to invest in infrastructure development and water management (Benatar, Gill, &Bakker, 2011).

            No wonder that there are still over a billion people around the world without access to clean drinking water. It has been estimated that the mortality rate among children in the world is 15%, of which 20% owes to diarrheal diseases related to poor drinking water (Massoud,Al-Abady, Jurdi, & Nuwayhid, 2010). The restricted access to drinking water,among other problems has led to gender discrimination because in the developing world, women and children are responsible for fetching water from untreated water sources (Barry & Hughes, 2008). Also, this has caused greater health disparities among the rich and poor countries around the globe. Countries with more wealth are privileged to purchase a variety of healthcare services, while the poor countries must suffer the consequences of inaccessible clean drinking water. This problem, as a negative consequence of globalization and loan policies will continue to take their toll on human lives (Benatar et al., 2011).

The increasing population in developing countries and emerging industrialized nations has led to the misuse of water resources. No environmental regulations are implemented to support the industrial growth in developing countries. This industrial growth has polluted the water table through the disposal of industrial waste, which ultimately corresponds to more diseases for developing nations. On the other hand, developed countries have more resources and strict laws to protect their water. These countries are even planning to meet water shortages through the many processes of desalination of salt water. However, some communities across the globe are still deprived of their basic right to clean water, including First Nations in Canada (Greenberg, 2009).

Nurses are a scarce resource worldwide, and the non-availability of clean drinking water would only serve to bring more causes of water-born diseases, increasing pressure on nursing communities globally. They would not be able to provide holistic care due to increased workload; though this approach has been emphasized by many nursing scholars (Duffield, Gardner, & Catling-Paull, 2008).

            In order to formulate policies that would secure the right to clean water, it is important to address the reasons for inequalities, such as the distribution of resources among the countries around the world. There is a need for economic redistribution and a better understanding of social justice to approve the right to clean water (Benatar et al., 2011). The right to clean water should be explicitly declared as a basic human right and a universal law. The World Bank should provide loans to developing countries without placing strict conditions on them. These loans would help developing nations to deal with their priority issues, such as health and education; the right to clean water can then be considered. Extra funding should be authorized for developing countries to establish infrastructure and water management strategies, making sure that easy access to clean water sources is prioritized. This would ultimately reduce the time spent on fetching water from water sources for women in the developing countries, as an alternative this time can be spent on education. In addition,this would alleviate gender disparities, since women are responsible for the household water in many developing countries (United Nations, 2010). Strong laws are to be established to guarantee universal access to clean water, rather than having a few sentences written in the legal books. Furthermore, accountability of the persons responsible for the provision of water as a basic human right is an important aspect that needs to be addressed by the United Nations (RNAO,2010).

            Inequalities do exist, not only in developing countries, but also in the developed world. For instance, the Canadian government should look into its own policies before going beyond the borders since Canada has not recognized the right to clean water. Inequalities continue to exist throughout the territories of Canada, where First Nations are deprived of their basic right to water. Approximately, over 20,000 First Nations individuals lack access to clean drinking water; among them 49 communities are using high risk drinking water (RNAO, 2010). Canada should implicitly include the right to water in its constitution and legislation and be a role model for the countries around the world by implementing equality and social justice (RNAO, 2010). The provincial government should participate by encouraging the federal government to vote for the right to water, which will help alleviate health disparities among Canadians and will also address the issue of water as a basic human right(RNAO, 2010).

            The Canadian Nurses Association (CNA)and registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) should urge the Canadian government to recognize the right to water as a basic human right to ensure health amongst citizens. The right to clean water should be enshrined in provincial and federal laws, ensuring that it has been implemented explicitly (CNA,2009). The Canadian government should not make any compromises in providing safe and dependable access to drinking water for every single Canadian community, including the First Nations. Extra funding should be made available for vulnerable communities across the country for the access of sustainable,clean, and safe water for drinking as well as for domestic purposes.Municipalities across the country should be asked to stop the sale of bottled water in public places and provide fountain water in parks and other public areas (RNAO, 2010).

            The Canadian government is obligated to follow through on the five principles set for the population health promotion described in the Ottawa Charter in 1978. In order to provide a creative supporting environment for health promotion, water is an important element of the environment. Not endorsing the right to water as basic human right, raises questions of social injustice and inequality, it also depicts the two tier system.Not supporting the right to clean water also creates a conducive environment for the people who want to sell this natural resource (Cohen, 2012).

            The International Council of Nurses (ICN) can play its role at the global level by passing resolutions and urging nurses across the world to participate in this cause.The council can also initiate an international campaign to create awareness among nurses at a global level to understand the value of recognition of this right. ICN can be a voice for nurses across the globe, requesting nurses to sign a petition for countries all over the world for the recognition of the right to water as a basic human right. In doing so, it would not only urge governments to endorse the right to water, but also help ICN meet its goal “to influence health policies” (CNA, 2009).

            Nurses have made many contributions and continue to do so through the research conducted on the relationship between human health and the environment. However,the knowledge gained from this research increases the professional responsibility of nurses, which is to develop inter-sectoral and interdisciplinary collaboration for the achievement of set goals, such as the provision of healthy environment. CNA can work together with individuals from provincial associations to support the right to water and influence provincial governments to admit this right, which can later be a trigger for changes at the national level (CNA, 2009).

            Recognition of the basic right to clean water is not going to change things overnight. This is just the first step in the process to creating health equity and social justice among the global community. Failing to accept this right can lead to unbearable consequences, such as increased morbidity and mortality across the globe due to poor drinking water. This will also increase pressure on the healthcare system to put more revenue into infrastructure development as a preventive strategy. Not endorsing the right will cause even more gender discrimination and women in developing countries will not be able to spare time for education.Nonetheless, developing countries as well as marginalized groups including First Nations in developed countries will continue to suffer (RNAO, 2010).

This article has been written by Nasir Ahmad, student at York University Toronto. The author of this article allows Peace In Home Health Care Services to share this with the public for awareness.

Nasir Ahmad

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