Is water a human right?

Maude Barlow is the National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians and Senior Advisor on Water to the President of  the United Nations General Assembly.   She also chairs the board of Washington-based Food and Water Watch and is a Councillor with the Hamburg-based World Future Council. Maude is the recipient of seven honorary doctorates as well as many awards, including the 2005 Right Livelihood Award (known as the “Alternative Nobel”), and the 2008 Canadian Environment Award. She is also the best selling author or co-author of 16 books, including the recently released Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and The Coming Battle for the Right to Water.

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TRANSCRIPT

Maude Barlow: I believe water is a human right. A lot of people don’t. Your government [i.e the US government] doesn’t.

I am a Canadian, my government doesn’t believe it either.

I am shocked that in the 21st century our governments are denying the concept. But they don’t want to be responsible for it, so they don’t want to support this resolution at the United Nations.

The big water corporations don’t want it to be a right. They say it is a need that can be delivered by anybody. So, they certainly don’t want to see this as a right.

The World Bank doesn’t see it as a right. The World Trade Organization doesn’t see it as a right.

But there is a whole growing movement around the world. We call it the global water justice movement. These are communities in some of the poorest places on earth, but also here in the United States, and places like Stockton, California, where they just retook back the water system from a private company. Or Atlanta that kicked Suez out. Or Michigan where they are fighting Nestle and the water takings that are taking down the water tables.

There are water struggles going on around the world and around the United States and we all know each other. We have connected into this wonderful movement and support each other.

We deeply believe that water is a human right and not a commodity. And, actually, we call it part of the commons that when you are born, you have certain inalienable rights. You have the right to clean air. You have the right to clean water. No one should be allowed to deny you water because you can't pay for it. It is just one of those things that you are given as a citizen of the earth, one of the species.

I also think other species have right to water. If we don’t protect water for nature, other species are going to die and if we don’t care about them for themselves, we should care about them for us because we are dependent on the chain and we [Inaudible] if the chain doesn’t live.

We need to see water as a right not only for humans, but other species and for the earth itself and we have to protect watersheds.

We have to stop moving water massively from where it has been needed by nature, to us. I will just give you one example. When you take water from an aquifer or watershed or river or whatever, and then you send it to a great big megacity and that megacity is on the ocean, that megacity, once it uses its water, dumps it into the ocean where it becomes salinated instead of returning it cleaned back into the system.

Then you are removing massive amounts of water from the watershed, and eventually the watershed dries up and eventually the watershed turns to desert. And if it turns to desert, it doesn’t attract the rain because you need vegetation for the rain cycle to work.

So, it is a vicious cycle that is creating more desert everywhere while we just continue to abuse water and not understand that we have to maintain the ecosystem health of watersheds.

In fact we have to bring back rain working with scientists who talk about the right to domicile of the drop of rain which really took me a long time to get my head around--like what does that mean? Well, you have to protect the actual rain cycle. You have to protect the hydrologic cycle because it also is vulnerable to our mistreatment of it.

It is looking at this human crisis and ecological crisis together. Bcause if you are just saying, well, this is the human rights issue, but it is an issue of poverty. And then over here, people are saying it is an environmental issue. No, they come together and we need to understand and we are building a movement towards putting these issues together. It is a long slog, as you can imagine.

Recorded On: March 17, 2008


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