The Human Right to Water

Agua Para el Pueblo sign

There is enough safe, clean drinking water for every person on this planet. Yet, one in four people worldwide don't have enough safe drinking water, while corporations exploit this global crisis to drive public water into private hands.

Access to water has long been recognized as crucial to realizing the most basic human rights, and in 2010, compelled by global advocates and government champions, the United Nations General Assembly affirmed the fundamental human right to water.

Since then, we have worked to ensure this human right is fulfilled worldwide. Our campaign to challenge corporate control of water:

  • Compels governments and international institutions to protect and prioritize the human right to water in their policy, funding and operations
  • Protects and challenges threats to democratic policymaking and water governance, such as corporate interference with the U.N.’s work on water
  • Supports the UN and other governing bodies in advancing water policies and practices in the public interest, including promoting U.N. Human Rights Council resolutions and advancing the mandate of the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation
  • Exposes corporate violations of the right to water and supports communities to challenge abusive corporate actions

Public Solutions are Best Solutions  

Because the human right to water is a basic obligation of governments, universal access is best realized when the management and control of water is in the public’s hands. We support democratically accountable water systems and help create the political space for these public solutions to thrive through hard-hitting campaigns, advocacy and strategic alliances.

On every continent, public water systems are employing innovative approaches to reliably deliver water to communities in need. The most successful are cooperative, participatory, equitable and not for profit. For example, there’s an employee’s cooperative in Bangladesh, a community water management system in Nepal, and the remunicipalization of Paris, France’s water system. Read more about Paris’s reclamation of its water system in this report.

Corporate Interference Threatens Human Right to Water

Political interference by private water corporations threatens the ability of communities to guarantee the human right to water for all.

Attempting to gain a foothold in the water market (estimated to be $400 billion-plus), global corporations use their vast resources to gain influence in international governing bodies such as the U.N. and funders like the World Bank.

The water industry’s tactics include promoting policy models that grant more corporate control over water, institutionalizing corporate partnerships with policymakers, weakening regulations and investing in water rights and trading.

Some examples:

  • The 2030 Water Resources Group, chaired by the CEO of Nestlé but officially a part of the World Bank, is a corporate trade association using the World Bank’s privileged relationships with governments to promote corporate interests.
  • The U.N. CEO Water Mandate and U.N. Global Compact are voluntary initiatives promoted by global corporations as an alternative to binding regulations, and often lack rigorous, independent oversight. Instead, they give corporations positive public-relations fodder and access to policymakers.

That’s why we are working in close partnership with allied organizations around the world to ensure that water control and management stays in the hands of the people.

We are supported in this work by a distinguished Advisory Committee, including award-winning journalist and author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism Naomi Klein; David Hall, Director, Public Services International Research Unit (PSIRU) and Mildred Warner, Professor of City and Regional Planning at Cornell University. Meet our Advisory Committee.

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