Right of access to clean water

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The right of access to clean water was recognized as a human right by the General Assembly of the United Nations on July 28, 2010 . Bolivia and 33 other states have introduced resolution 64/292 to the General Assembly. However, it is not legally binding and also not enforceable. However, anchoring the human right to water has a high political priority. Some commentators also derive a human right to water from Article 11.1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights .

Voting result

122 states voted for the resolution, 29 states were not present at the assembly, 41 abstained, including Canada and the USA . The reasoning stated that the resolution was ambiguous and that there was no "international right" to water. Germany supported the resolution, but would have wished for clearer responsibility.

Legal status

In contrast to resolutions of the UN Security Council, those of the General Assembly are not legally binding. The status of the "right of access to clean water" as a component of customary law, which is binding under international law, is at least unclear; there are hardly any indications of the consuetudo and opinio iuris required for this . The derivation from Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is at least doubtful, since the wording of the provision does not mention water. There are therefore strong arguments in favor of not considering the "right of access to clean water" as legally binding.

Content of the resolution

The resolution stipulates that states and international companies should financially promote the development and expansion of water infrastructure systems - especially in third world countries. Around 884 million people have no access to clean water and a total of 2.6 billion people have no access to sanitation. The United Nations Millennium Development Goals envisage halving the number of people without access to clean water by 2015. To achieve this goal, around 10 billion US dollars are required annually - that's less than half of what is spent on expensive bottled water in industrialized countries.

Worldwide situation

Around 1.5 million people die every year from contaminated water. One reason for this is the garbage that is not disposed of in developing countries, but ends up untreated in lakes and rivers. In addition, there is a lack of sanitary facilities and agricultural waste, which unclearedly contaminates the water cycle. Water pipes, sewage treatment plants and sewage systems are often not available in third world countries. If this infrastructure exists, it is usually ailing or cannot withstand the increasing population growth. Nevertheless, a positive trend can be seen: in 1990 77% of the world population were connected to safe drinking water sources. Twelve years later it was 83%. In South Asia the connection rate rose from 71 to 84%. In the area south of the Sahara, progress is not so rapid: 49% of the people had access to clean water in 1990, compared with 58% in 2002. Precisely because the population is growing rapidly in these regions, these growth rates are a success. In the East African state of Tanzania , the proportion of the population with access to clean drinking water rose from 38% to 73%.

Funding the human right to water

In many countries the right to water enshrined in international law is not implemented. In most cases, these states shy away from high financial obligations. But first and foremost, the resolution provides for the creation of conditions and national regulations for a water and wastewater infrastructure that enables the prerequisites for access to clean water. The economic benefit is enormous: with every US dollar invested in the water supply, economic damage of 8 US dollars is avoided. Germany calls for intensive efforts under international law to implement the human right to water globally.


  • the political will of a state to achieve this, exist and be strengthened - laws, regulations and framework conditions are created.
  • the respective states ensure that the country's water supply is guaranteed. The participation of private companies with reasonable tariffs is not excluded.

A comprehensive and intact water and wastewater infrastructure brings a country:

  • economic benefits: growth and prosperity develop when basic human needs are met.
  • Fewer deaths: Every year around 1.5 million people die as a result of contaminated water
  • more time for work, training and childcare. The World Health Organization calculates that a person without access to sanitary facilities spends 30 minutes every day to relieve himself. The time saved by sanitary facilities would save a family of six 21 hours in a week. Extrapolated, that's 100 billion US dollars a year that is generated when people have access to clean water.
  • lower healthcare costs.

In most of the countries that do not have access to clean water, it is almost impossible to achieve the international goal: there is a lack of money and the technological knowledge to set up a water and sewage supply. Therefore, the EU , World Bank and International Monetary Fund want to achieve the goals of the resolution with the help of the private sector. With public-private partnership models , joint ventures and direct investments from industrialized countries, risks are to be minimized and investment security offered. This presupposes the privatization or partial privatization of existing public utilities.

Forms of funding

Politically, water is considered a "public good", but is economically a limited good (and thus at least a common good ). States are free to decide whether water and sewage systems are managed publicly or by companies. According to a study of the privatization of the water supply in Manila , the water supply and sanitation in the country is better than it was before privatization. When the water infrastructure systems were publicly managed, the state did not supply illegal settlement areas with water. With the private management by Ondeo / Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux , this distinction no longer existed: the non-state company also provides for the illegal settlement areas. Within the first five years, 1 million people were provided with water connections. Positive effects: the human right of access to clean water is put into practice. In addition, the water prices fall with every new water connection. People don't have to buy overpriced water from a vendor, corruption is contained. Although this gives many people access to clean water, it has not been possible over a long period of time to couple the high water connection rate to the rapid population growth. The study also shows that the targets for the wastewater situation were not met, apart from a few pilot projects.

The population growth in Bangladesh's capital Dhaka is increasing at a disproportionately fast rate. The region around Dhaka is particularly hard hit by pollution and an inadequate water supply. In addition, the country's groundwater is poisoned with arsenic for geological reasons and endangers the lives of around 35 million people. That is why water is a particularly valuable commodity in Bangladesh: a liter there costs around 15 euro cents . Around 150 taka are required to provide a family of four with water . The average daily income of a Bengali is around 200 Taka (approx. 1.80 euros ). The Grameen Bank and the French environmental service provider Veolia have started a social business project there : The aim is to give a city with 25,000 inhabitants access to clean water. In a water treatment plant , dirty river water is converted into clean drinking water. Veolia sells ten liters of water for 1 taka (approx. 1 euro cent). The system can produce up to 10,000 liters of water in one hour. Both companies are operating the project on a cost-covering basis, neither profit nor costs should arise from it.

Disadvantages of state-controlled management of the water infrastructure are insufficient cost recovery, little flexibility, no competition and no control structures that prevent corruption. In addition, state structures work more inefficiently and have insufficient knowledge of business and finance.

However, experience shows that it is precisely corruption that cannot be eliminated through privatization. On the contrary, it has been well documented in some cases that the privatization of the water infrastructure or its operation only came about through corruption, mostly by municipal officials (for example for the city of Grenoble). Even the argument that private supply would be more efficient may only apply in special cases, for example in the case of blatant public mismanagement. In the case of the private operator, in addition to the costs of the pure operation of the public facility, the profits to be achieved and possibly financing costs for the purchase of the facility or the entry as an operator. Water Makes Money shows this in an impressive way. In the meantime, several model cities have reversed privatization, partly for cost reasons. These include Paris, Berlin and Grenoble. See also the book Remunicipalization by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), March 2012, available on the Internet.

Obligations of State and Non-State Actors

In order to implement the human right to water, both the responsible states and non-state actors must observe certain principles.

  • States should fulfill, respect and protect the human right to water.
  • States should respect the human right to water in other countries and not influence the fulfillment of their duties.
  • International partnerships are intended to support other countries in implementing the human right to water.
  • Likewise, non-governmental companies, private individuals and international organizations should respect the human right to water and help to implement it as far as possible.

A state violates the human right to water if it does not use the available resources to guarantee basic water supplies and sanitation. The water infrastructure systems must offer a sustainable and fair tariff system. However, a state must not prohibit efforts by individuals, groups, corporations or other non-state actors.

See also

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. dpa: Water is becoming a human right. UN resolution. In: Spiegel Online. Spiegel Online GmbH, July 28, 2010, archived from the original on June 23, 2011 ; Retrieved June 23, 2011 .
  2. gxs / apn: Unity between the FDP, CDU / CSU, the Left and the Greens. UN water resolution. In: focus.de. Tomorrow Focus Media GmbH, July 29, 2010, archived from the original on June 23, 2011 ; Retrieved June 23, 2011 .
  3. UN declares the right to pure water a human right. United Nations. In: Zeit Online. Zeitverlag Gerd Bucerius GmbH & Co. KG, July 28, 2010, archived from the original on June 24, 2011 ; Retrieved June 24, 2011 .
  4. Article 25 of the UN Charter.
  5. General Assembly Adopts Recognizing Access To Clean Water, Sanitation As Human Right, By Recorded Vote Of 122 In Favor, None Against, 41 Abstentions. Department of Public Information, News and Media Division, New York. In: General Assembly GA / 10967. United Nations, July 28, 2010; archived from the original on June 24, 2011 ; accessed on June 24, 2011 .
  6. General Assembly declares access to clean water and sanitation is a human right. In: www.un.org. UN News Center, July 28, 2010, archived from the original on June 28, 2011 ; accessed on June 28, 2011 (English).
  7. Every sixth person has no access to clean drinking water. In: www.europarl.europa.eu. European Parliament , May 21, 2011, archived from the original on June 28, 2011 ; Retrieved June 28, 2011 .
  8. Uschi Eid : Water for Everyone: Best Practice Models - Experiences from the UN Water Board and German development cooperation. (PDF; 108 kB) p. 5 , archived from the original on June 28, 2011 ; Retrieved June 28, 2011 .
  9. Human right to water. In: Auswaertiges-amt.de. Federal Foreign Office , February 2, 2010, archived from the original on June 25, 2011 ; Retrieved June 25, 2011 .
  10. Jamie Bartram: Sanitation is an investment with high economic returns. (PDF; 218 kB) Sanitation generate economic benefits. In: Factsheet. World Health Organization, 2008, p. 2 , archived from the original on June 28, 2011 ; accessed on June 28, 2011 (English).
  11. ^ A b Nils Rosemann: The human right to water under the conditions of trade liberalization and privatization - An investigation into the privatization of water supply and sewage disposal in Manila. (PDF; 508 kB) Brief reports from international development cooperation. Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung , p. 4 , archived from the original on June 25, 2011 ; Retrieved June 25, 2011 .
  12. Kerstin Humberg: "You are the first foreigner to try that". Email from Bangladesh. In: Spiegel Online. Spiegel Online GmbH, March 24, 2009, archived from the original on June 29, 2011 ; Retrieved June 29, 2011 .
  13. Tobias Engelmeier: The Yunus virus. Social projects. In: sueddeutsche.de . sueddeutsche.de GmbH, February 1, 2009, accessed on June 29, 2011 .
  14. Wolfgang Kroh: A decade of private water supply in developing countries. (PDF; 156 kB) Private Sector Participation in Water Supply - Stocktaking of KfW Development Bank. KfW Development Bank, June 1, 2005, archived from the original on June 28, 2011 ; Retrieved June 28, 2011 .
  15. Eau de Grenoble: le retour aux sources! March 1, 2000, accessed September 4, 2014 .
  16. ^ Leslie Franke, Herdolor Lorenz: Water Makes Money. 2010, accessed September 4, 2014 .
  17. ^ Martin Pigeon, David A. McDonald, Olivier Hoedeman and Satoko Kishimoto: Remunicipalization. (PDF; 1491 kB) Putting Water Back into Public Hands. CEO, March 1, 2012, accessed September 4, 2014 .