blog posts from GYC's participants, alumni, & staff
by Cher Sprague
During the weekend break from the Global Youth Connect program activities, I went up to the bar at a restaurant and asked for a glass of water. The bartender commented that the bar was in the business of selling water, not giving it away. This reminded me of a topic extremely close to my heart: water rights.
I was first introduced to this topic by Democracy Now‘s reporting on a situation in Bolivia. In 2000, The Cochabamba water wars broke out in response to water privatization. For the Bolivian people this was not only an economic hardship, especially for those who used water for farming, but it was also in direct conflict with their cultural and spiritual beliefs that all peoples owned the resources of the earth. Once Bolivians eventually won this fight for their water, activists began a campaign to have water recognized as a human right in a UN resolution. In 2010, with 122 countries voting in favor, the UN declared that access to water and sanitation is a human right. Although a UN resolution has its limitations as far as what it means practically, the recognition was still a huge step in the right direction. The UN agreed that water is a human right because it is the stuff that makes life- it is essential to being.
Interestingly, the United States, which had called for the vote, ultimately abstained voting. Their reasoning for this was that the text could undermine already existing international law in the way it described the right to water and sanitation. Quoting the previous link, “The legal implications of a declared right to water had not yet been fully considered in the Assembly or in Geneva.” In other words, it might be a little expensive and inconvenient to declare water as a human right.
In the United States, we tend to hold to the capitalistic belief that everything is property, and, as a result, our public spaces and utilities such as water are being privatized at an alarming rate (an interesting case of this is that of Stockton California). People pay 500 times more for a bottle of water than they do for tap water – even though both likely came from the same water source – and its clear we have a problem.
On the GYC in NYC program, Joel Berg from NYCCAH talked to us about how human rights like free speech and right to protest are nice, but they mean nothing if you cannot satisfy basic physical needs like food and water. He quoted Martin Luther King, Jr., who said (I’m paraphrasing), it’s great to sit at the lunch counter, but it would be better to be able to actually afford the hamburger too. I think it is in this spirit that the UN declared water a human right, and people in the USA should reflect on this right more than they already do.
What does it say about us that we are not willing to give somebody water regardless of their financial status? How are restaurants allowed to sell water from the tap that we all pay for through our municipal taxes and water bills? Finally, on a person level, can we at least all agree that there is little dignity in refusing the give somebody a glass of water when they are thirsty?