Wednesday, August 5, 2020

A Decade of the Right to Water

The year 2020 marks the 10th anniversary of the UN General Assembly's formal recognition of the Human Right to Water.  Notably, the U.S. was one of a number of countries that abstained from that vote.

Now, with frequent handwashing as the first line of defense against COVID-19, the absence of a right to water in the U.S. is manifest in rising human costs. In Indian Country, the regions of the U.S. most likely to lack water infrastructure, COVID-19 is rampant. In urban areas, where overdue water payments have been stayed during COVID emergencies, the bills continue to accumulate and will soon be leading to evictions and foreclosures as emergencies are lifted. 

Human rights norms make clear that water shut-offs violate human rights when individuals do not have the ability to pay, yet shut-offs are routinely utilized in many communities around the U.S.

Is there anything to celebrate at this anniversary year?  Several bills current pending in Congress take this issue seriously; they propose assistance for local water authorities to enable them to avoid shut-offs, and create new safeguards to ensure that water and sanitation are available to all. Some local governments like Portland, Seattle, and Philadelphia have adopted innovative approaches, from providing water bill assistance to renters to adjusting payments to conform to individual ability to pay. 

While positive, these are small steps. Human Rights Watch has produced a video that shows the magnitude of the challenge.

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