First and foremost, happy World Water Day. And also happy spring, and happy Norouz to Persians around the world! Aside from good times spent time with great friends, I was pleasantly surprised on Norouz to find that my modified translation of Saadi’s Bani Adam verse had been quoted on the NY Times. I am truly looking forward to this new year and all the opportunities it will bring for… change and growth.
A few weeks ago I participated in the 2009 edition of MonWHO, a three-day international conference which stimulates the World Health Organization, designed similar to model United Nations. While this year the theme was Environmental Health, the majority of the conference was spent focusing on issues surrounding water.
Having observed and worked for two years on civil engineering water-remediation projects, I was very interested in seeing the public health perspective. We had a wonderful key-note speaker, Maude Barlow, the founder of the Blue Planet Project and the Senior Advisor on Water to the President of the United Nations General Assembly. She presented a bleak, yet truly compelling picture of the global water situation. She highlighted the importance of viewing water as “a public trust and not a commodity”, urging that legislation must be designed to protect the public’s right to water.
There has been a lot of resistance by the governments, including the Canadian government, to introducing water conservation bills. Here in Canada many people seem to be under the false impression that our water-supplies are virtually limitless. A survery conducted by Unilever and RBC revealed last year that the majority of Canadians are “over-confident” in the long-term water supplies of the country. As Maude Barlow pointed out, while the figure 20% is often thrown around, the reality is that Canada possesses only 6.5% of the world’s fresh water, which needless to say is highly vulnerable and threatened by exploitation and global warming.
My favorite part of Ms. Barlow’s speech was when she evoked Dr. King’s words “Legislation may not change the heart, but it will restrain the heartless.” For me, in the face of the pollution of water resources and the looming scarcity that threatens the majority of the world’s population, her point that “by default or by design” we now have to choose, or we will be later forced to change our approach to water really hit home.
Of course, after a fun legislation-filled weekend, I was super excited to hear that the World Water Council would be meeting the upcoming weeks in Istanbul to discuss the same issues that we had discussed in the weekend. Unfortunately, it seems that this week-long conference of world leaders and experts was less productive than ours, despite the better food and scenery. ;)
From CBC News: “A week-long international conference ended Sunday in Istanbul with a statement that recognizes access to safe drinking water as a “basic human need,” but not a “human right,” as some delegates had proposed.
The statement, coinciding with the United Nations’ World Water Day, was issued at the end of a three-day ministerial meeting at the 5th annual World Water Forum in the Turkish city.
“We acknowledge the discussions with the UN system regarding human rights and access to safe drinking water and sanitation. We recognize that access to safe drinking water and sanitation is a basic human need,” the statement said.”
While I am aware of the arguments on either side, I am still perplexed by how water has not been declared a human right when food explicitly has been protected by Article 25 of the UDHR. This just seems like playing with semantics, or if one is cynical perhaps a statement that, among other things, gives leeway for the continuing use of water resources and water access as a political tool in regions of conflict.Permanent linkMarzieh Ghiasi