Ted McLaughlin : Access to Water Is a Human Right

Clean water should be a human right,
Not a capitalist commodity

By Ted McLaughlin / The Rag Blog / August 5, 2010

A vote took place in the United Nations a few days ago that could eventually have far-reaching effects on everyone on this planet. The vote was on a resolution, introduced by the Bolivian representative to the U.N., that extended basic human rights. The resolution officially made access to clean water and sanitation a basic fundamental human right.

This just makes sense. After all, water is not a luxury but an absolute necessity for human life. Humans cannot live with water. This puts water in a special category with food and shelter. These items are more important than any other resources because they are a must for sustaining human life. So how could anyone oppose this resolution?

Actually there were no votes against the resolution. It was approved 122 to 0. One might think that was a unanimous victory for human rights, but that would not be completely true. Although no nation voted against the resolution, about 40 nations abstained from voting on the resolution. And, interestingly enough, most of those nations abstaining are the very countries that preach the loudest about human rights.

Among the nations refusing to vote for access to clean water and sanitation as a basic human right were the United States, Canada, Australia, and many European countries — the so-called industrialized and “civilized” first-world nations. Why would they not vote for the right of every human to have access to clean water?

That’s simple. Voting for access to clean water as a fundamental human right would expose their own hypocrisy. You see, these countries don’t see water as something everyone should have a right to. They see water as simply another commodity to be bought and sold, and those who cannot afford to buy it have no right to it. This may sound harsh, but it is true.

The United States has never recognized the right of humans to have access to water. In this country, we give lip service to providing access to clean water for everyone, but the fact is that access is granted only to those who are willing and able to pay for that access. If you don’t think this is true, just try not paying your water bill for a while. You will find your water cut off. Your access to water will be denied by the very government that proudly claims to provide that access.

I have always thought this was wrong. No one should be denied access to clean water just because they cannot afford to buy it. No one should be reduced to having to steal this basic resource just to sustain their lives. Clean water should be provided by the government (as it is in most places in the United States), but it should not be sold — it should be paid for through taxes and provided free of charge to all citizens.

Now I know that some of you are thinking that if water is provided for free then some people will waste this precious resource. That is true — some people will waste the water, and there should be a punishment (probably monetary) for that. Anyone who uses more than a reasonable amount of this precious resource should be fined severely, but no one should be completely denied access to a reasonable amount of water (and that reasonable amount can be determined by the community-at-large).

Frankly, much water is already being wasted. Here in Texas we know that our water resources will not meet our future and growing demand. And yet we continue to waste water. In fact, many communities actually encourage that waste. As example, does it really make sense to keep planting and watering lawns (a requirement in many communities and subdivisions) in a state where water becomes more scarce every year?

And the waste is even more egregious in the richer communities, where one family lives on a large estate and to water many acres of lawns will use more water than that necessary to sustain hundreds of families with clean water. But Americans are in love with their lawns and, even in a state with scarce water resources, are currently unwilling to give them up and stop wasting that valuable resource — and the future be damned.

But such wasteful use of water may not be possible in the future. Especially in light of global climate change (and that change is happening whether you believe it is caused by humans or not), water is becoming scarcer all over the world. There are those who believe (including myself) that future wars will be fought over water rather than oil or other capitalist commodities.

The resolution introduced by Bolivia and passed by 122 nations was nothing less than a gauntlet being thrown down. The developing nations and their allies are telling the industrialized world that water is not a commodity to be sold only to those who can afford it. It is a scarce resource that must be shared by all of humanity.

Like it or not, the industrialized world must reconsider and change it’s wasteful use of this scarce resource, and they must no longer view it as a commodity to make the rich even richer — a commodity that can be denied to the poor. The industrialized world, especially the United States, loves to preach equality and human rights. It is now time for them to start practicing what they preach. The future of humanity demands it.

[Rag Blog contributor Ted McLaughlin also posts at jobsanger.]

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2 Responses to Ted McLaughlin : Access to Water Is a Human Right

  1. A recent round table on Water in Austin, Texas, was held at Jim Hightower’s office. See


    For some helpful insights do recall that Elinor Ostrom received the Nobel memorial economics prize — for her work on why the “tragedy of the commons” can but need not prevail, and the “drama of the commons” is important.

  2. Anonymous says:

    A long time ago an alarmist with litte foresite and a seemingly plausable theory predicted that mankind’s uncontrolled propagation would out run it’s ability to produce food. Malthus could not foresee modern farming equipment, improved techniques and insecticides. We still have an abundance of food. A lot of it is not in the hands of those who need it, but it is there. When I was about 30 I realized Malthus has missed the obvious. Potable water would become the fought over necessity. The continuing growth of mankind will outstrip the one liquid nothing can live without. But industrialists are still rewarded for poisoning our water with their cast off chemicals and people still water useless lawns instead of trees. Someone once observed that “if the earth were made of gold man would kill for a handful of dirt.” One day man will kill for a cup full of water.

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