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Defending the Human Right to Water

Today is World Water Day, a day established by the United Nations to raise awareness of the global water crisis. It’s a moment to reflect on the importance – and growing scarcity – of a resource on which all life depends. It’s also an opportunity to recognize the individuals and communities fighting against the corporations and corrupt governments that are denying access to this fundamental human right– from Flint, Michigan, and Jackson, Mississippi to  Cajamarca, Peru, and Omkoi, Thailand.

The sad and sobering fact of the matter is that the world is running out of freshwater.  By 2025 two-thirds of the world’s population will face water shortages. This poses a grave human nutrition and health crisis as people cannot access sufficient water to meet daily consumption and hygiene needs or sufficiently care for crops. 

Undermining the Right to Water

Despite this coming crisis (or in some cases because of it), corporations and governments continue to destroy and deny public access to freshwater. The promotion of extractive industries, which consume and pollute mind-boggling amounts of water (and are often directly and indirectly subsidized by taxpayer dollars), is one example. Large-scale mines can use as much as 26 million gallons of water each day — the equivalent of nearly 40 Olympic swimming pools.  Six gallons of freshwater are needed to produce one gallon of gasoline from Canada’s climate-destroying tar sands. 

Privatization of water sources is another way in which corporations are seeking to exploit the water crisis for selfish ends. In the US, water service shut-offs by utilities are a serious problem that disproportionately affects communities of color, particularly Native Americans, putting them at greater risk of infectious diseases, including COVID-19. And inaction on climate change poses a grave threat to water sources, as droughts increase and intensify, snow-melt diminishes or disappears altogether, and freshwater aquifers become salinated from sea-level rise.

Frontline Communities Fight Back

This scenario is undoubtedly grim, but there is hope. Around the world, frontline communities, particularly Indigenous Peoples, are fighting to protect our water. The current fight by “water protectors” against the Line 3 tar sands pipeline in Minnesota is one example. Indigenous communities and activists from across the country are working to prevent the construction of the pipeline that will pump oil from Canada’s climate-destroying tar sands and pollute local waterways. 

Another example is the more than 20-year struggle of the U’wa people of Colombia to protect their water and land from damage caused by oil extraction. The U’wa have led a tireless effort to ensure that their resources are protected for future generations. This year EarthRights will be helping the U’wa take this fight to the Interamerican Court of Human Rights. 

As we recognize World Water Day, we need to reaffirm the basic human right to water and acknowledge and support communities like these that are fighting to ensure that we have enough of the resource that keeps us all alive.