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« Review of the Film 'Blue Gold: World Water Wars' | Main | Paying (More) for Water? »

Sunday, 28 December 2008

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Peter Gleick

Michael,
I just saw this post on the right to water, and since you mention a paper I wrote in 1996, I thought I'd offer a slight clarification:

First, the 1996 paper (http://www.pacinst.org/reports/basic_water_needs/) does NOT say that 50 liters per person per day should be given to everyone free. In fact, I argue that in most cases, we should pay for it, because we can. I DO believe it should be provided free when, for reasons of extreme poverty, people are unable to pay. In other words, it should be treated as a minimum human need and subsidized when necessary.

Far more explicitly, however, I wrote a paper in 1999 on the Human Right to Water (published in Water Policy), which explicitly discusses water as a human right (which I believe it is, legally and morally), but also goes over the distinctions between rights, responsibilities, pricing, and so on. This paper is also available free online at:
http://www.pacinst.org/reports/basic_water_needs/human_right_to_water.pdf.

Peter Gleick

Michael

Thanks for commenting, David.

I cannot see the world being required to invade a country "reluctant" to supply its citizens with clean water. If we did not invade Sudan over Darfur or Rwanda to stop the genocide we are not going to invade "Absurdistan" to force it to provide clean water to its people. I doubt even Maude Barlow would support such an action.

I would rather use the money spent on an invasion to help the country meet its obligations.

Along with the right comes a responsibility for the rest of us. What will be required is for the world to employ sanctions or other means to ensure the right is honored. I view a "carrot-and- stick" approach, with the emphasis on providing assistance for the transgressors to solve their own problems.

Water has no susbstitute (that I know of) for its role in sustaining life. In that respect, it is different from most (all?) other commodities.

Lack of clean water provision is not only a "rights" issue, but also a health issue and potentially, a security one as well. So even if one is not altruistic, the latter issue should be considered.

David Zetland

I agree with your broad sentiment, but I also want to point out that the lawyer's justification ("make it a right and get international sanctions") is hardly the end of the game.

As I said months ago (start here: http://aguanomics.com/2008/12/loving-themselves.html), a "right" implies an obligation to deliver. Governments will either meet that obligation (at what opportunity cost?) or fail. If they fail, do "we" (as in "we are the world") have the right to invade that country to deliver on that obligation?

I'd say that we would, and I'd also say that we'd be fools (cf. Iraq).

Leave water rights out of the UN declaration; worry about things that governments have a larger role in preventing/supporting (e.g., freedom of speech, religion, political affiliation, etc.)

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