UNITED NATIONS, Apr 22 (IPS) - Alarmed by corporate moves to treat water as just another market commodity, leading civil society groups are urging the international community to adopt a new universal treaty to protect the right to water.
The ratification of such a convention by the U.N. member states would give a legal instrument to all people to defend their right to clean water and sanitation,” former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, who currently leads Green Cross, an international environmental group, told reporters this week. Green Cross and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which actively took part in the just-concluded sessions of the Commission on Sustainable Development related to water and sanitation policies, believe the new treaty would be helpful in drawing distinctions between the different aspects of water use and the related rights and obligations at the local, national and international level. The former Soviet leader called on the U.N. member nations to ”seriously consider” the possibility of supporting the idea of a Convention on the Right to Water. ”Should the General Assembly support this initiative this September, this would be highly appreciated by the international community and by millions of millions of people in need of water as a concrete step toward the resolution of the water crisis,” he said. ”Time is a luxury not enjoyed by those whose lives are cut cruelly short due to a lack of clean water, and the time is also running out for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),” he added. ”But we can still honour our commitments. Failure is not an option on the table today, and we will not be given the luxury of a second chance.” According to the U.N., over one billion people lack access to clean water and over two billion have no access to sanitation, the primary cause of diseases like cholera that take the lives of more than 6,000 children in poor countries every day. The right to water is mentioned in a number of international legal documents, such as the Action Plan adopted by the U.N. Water Conference in 1977, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Dublin Statement on Water and Sustainable Development. In November 2002, the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights also affirmed that access to adequate amounts of clean water for personal and household use is a ”fundamental human right of all people.” However, there is no international instrument that guarantees to every person the right to affordable water, obliges national authorities to respect this right, and provides a model and mechanism for its implementation. Although less than 10 percent of the world's water resources are currently controlled by the private sector, critics of privatisation warn that in the absence of a binding international treaty, in the next 10 years private companies will control more than 70 percent of water resources in North America and Europe alone. Addressing the Asian-African Summit in Jakarta Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he had called on every developed country to commit to contribute 0.7 percent of their gross national income to reach the MDGs, which seek to provide clean drinking water to 500 million people in the next 10 years. The MDGs include a 50 percent reduction in poverty and hunger; universal primary education; reduction of child mortality by two-thirds; cutbacks in maternal mortality by three-quarters; the promotion of gender equality; and the reversal of the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, all by 2015. ”The time has come for action -- concrete, measurable steps to a quantum leap in resources for development,” he said. ”The human family cannot enjoy development without security, and we will not enjoy security without development, and we cannot enjoy either without respect for human rights.” Sharing Annan's views, Gorbachev said the slow progress in achieving the MDGs was the result of ”the paralysis of political will,” while urging both donor and developing nations to double their spending from 14 billion dollars to 30 billion dollars a year to meet the water and sanitation targets. ”This is not about charity, no matter what form it takes,” he said. ”This is about equality of all people in satisfying their basic needs and about the right of every person to access clean drinking water and sanitation.” On Friday, delegates from around the world who attended the Commission on Sustainable Development, which lasted for two weeks, were still busy drafting a final statement on the policy options related to water and sanitation policies. The first draft circulated to the media, however, pointed out that ”a substantial increase” of resources would be required if developing nations, especially the least developed countries, ”are to achieve the internationally agreed development goals and targets.” (END/2005)
Commission on Sustainable Development
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