Human Rights to Clean Water


The United Nations General Assembly on twenty-eighth July 2010, explicitly recognized and approved that it is a human right to have clean water and hygienic disposal of human waste. This recognition was done through the Resolution 64/292 which requires its members to offer financial assistance to other countries to enable them to grow their capacity and technology to make available to their citizens water that is affordable, accessible, clean and safe for human consumption (United Nations General Assembly, 2010). The General Comment No. 15 on the rights of water ratified by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states that human dignity dictates having the right to clean water is vital to living a healthy life (Comment, 2002). It further highlights that every human being has the right to have access to affordable, acceptable, safe and sufficient water for both individual and domestic purposes (Comment, 2002).

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Dimensions of Human Right to Clean water

Sufficient – everyone should have a water supply that is continuous and sufficient for personal and domestic use. These uses include drinking, washing clothes, personal sanitation, preparation of food, domestic purposes such as safe disposal of human excreta. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends availability of 50 -100 liters of water per day to meet the most basic human needs (Bartram et al., 2015).

Accessibility – according to WHO, the source of water should be within 1000 meters from one’s home and the collection time should not exceed 30 minutes. Every individual has the right to physically accessible water that should be within their locale of the household, health or educational institution and workplace.

Affordability – household and individual expenditure on basic use of water should be affordable for everyone to avoid forcing them to seek cheaper and unsafe alternatives that may be detrimental to their health. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) recommends that the overall cost of water should not exceed three percent of the total household income.

Acceptability – the taste, color and odor of water should be acceptable for each personal and domestic use. Furthermore, the sanitation facilities should be culturally appropriate and sensitive to gender, privacy, and lifecycle

Safety – safe water must be free from the disease-causing microorganisms, chemical substances and radiological substances that may result in affecting one’s health. Therefore, water must be of the quality that is safe for human consumption that is, both drinking and food preparations, as well for personal and domestic use. Moreover, water services such as sanitation should be such that there is no contact between the human excreta and people.

Flint Water Crisis

The Flint water crisis was an unavoidable circumstance caused by human laxity to observe and respect the human rights to clean water. Butler, Scammell & Benson (2016) narrate that it all started with the town’s officials need to reduce the cost of providing clean water to its inhabitants. However noble the idea was, the official forgot the most fundamental mandate which was ensuring that the water they provide was safe for consumption. As a result, individuals in the tow ended up suffering from lead poisoning.

The water Flint Town opted to supply to its people after Detroit shutoff their water came from River Flint. This water had a high affinity of corroding the led metal pipes used for the distribution of water (Butler, Scammell & Benson, 2016). Individuals from the top management to the engineers and analysts on site responsible for checking the safety of the water failed in their mandate which led to the violation of human rights to water. The presence of lead poisoning, the brown color, and the foul smell rendered the Flint water unfit for human consumption (Calderon, 2000).

Bangladesh Water Crisis

The WHO projects that at least sixty percent of Bangladesh population does not have access to safe drinking water (Bartram et al., 2015). The country experience two seasons, the warmer which brings monsoons and the cooler which is associated with drought. Being a developing country, it lacks the infrastructure to collect and conserve the excessive water brought by the monsoon and therefore, when the dry season comes it suffers from water shortage.

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Bangladesh also faces the problem of arsenic poisoning in its groundwater reservoirs (Chowdhury, 2004). The severity of the poisoning is so high such that it is affecting 30-35 million people, therefore, becoming the most significant mass poisoning in history, reports Chowdhury, (2004). As such, Calderon (2000) explains that the poisoning renders the groundwater unfit for human consumption. The other problem is the rising salinity of the surface water. The country has three rivers (Ganges, Meghna, and Brahmaputra) which unfortunately originate from other countries, therefore, making the volume reaching Bangladesh sufficiently low. The Farraka Barrage in India which diverts water from River Ganges also contributes to lower amounts of water reaching this country which leads to high salinity of the water. Therefore, the saline water, the arsenic poisoning and the scarcity of clean, safe water is a violation of human rights to clean water.

South Africa Water Crisis

The persistent drought in the region has seen a depletion in its water reservoirs leading to water scarcity (Rijsberman, 2006). Seventy-seven percent of the country’s water is from surface water like river Limpopo and Komati. There is distress that in some part of the region taps will soon run dry since most major reservoirs are empty.

Rijsberman, (2006) explains that the country is a mining nation and therefore, there has been continuous pollution of both the ground and surface water through these mining activities. As such, it has rendered groundwater within such regions unfit for consumption while the drought has considerably reduced the amount of surface water.

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The other problem facing the country is the dumping of raw sewage on River Vaal, which the largest in South Africa (Herold, 2015). Municipal authorities attributed this to lack of proper infrastructure such as old pipes to direct the waste to the desired destination. The pollution is so vast such that a statement was issued by the local water agency that human contact with Vaal water should be avoided because it may lead to severe infections. The scarcity and water pollution in South Africa is a clear violation of the human rights to clean water.


Clean water is the most fundamental need in the life of a human being. As such, it should remain a human right and governments and organizations should strive to ensure that this right is not violated for whatsoever reason.

In the case of Flint, as much as the city officials want to reduce the cost of water, they should ensure there are appropriate measures and agreements between them and Detroit based water treatment plan for the continuous supply of water until such a time when the alternative shall be deemed safe.

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On the hand, the government of Bangladesh should improve infrastructure to facilitate capture and storage of rainwater during the monsoons to be used during the dry season (Hanjra & Qureshi, 2010). Since the issue of arsenic poisoning cannot be rectified entirely in the near future, having a proper mechanism to store the excess water during the monsoons will ensure the region doesn’t suffer from clean water shortages.

Finally, on the South Africa case, I agree with Hanjra & Qureshi (2010) that strict policies should be enacted to reduce the issue pollution of particularly surface water by the runoff from mining activities. Furthermore, the appropriate authorities should take responsibility, and provide a safe way of sewerage disposal and ensure there is no damping of raw sewerage into the river. When this is done, the country will be able to meet the water needs of its population.

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  1. Bartram, J., Cronk, R., Montgomery, M., Gordon, B., Neira, M., Kelley, E., & Velleman, Y. (2015). Bulletin of the World Health Organization.
  2. Butler, L. J., Scammell, M. K., & Benson, E. B. (2016). The Flint, Michigan, water crisis: a case study in regulatory failure and environmental injustice. Environmental Justice, 9(4), 93-97.
  3. Calderon, R. L. (2000). The epidemiology of chemical contaminants in drinking water. Food and chemical toxicology, 38, S13-S20.
  4. Chowdhury, A. M. R. (2004). Arsenic crisis in Bangladesh. Scientific American, 291(2), 86-91.
  5. Comment, G. (2002). 15: The Right to Water. UN Doc.
  6. Hanjra, M. A., & Qureshi, M. E. (2010). Global water crisis and future food security in an era of climate change. Food Policy, 35(5), 365-377.
  7. Herold, C. E. (2015). A suite of mathematical models to simulate the water and salt circulation in the Vaal River water supply system (Doctoral dissertation).
  8. Rijsberman, F. R. (2006). Water scarcity: fact or fiction? Agricultural water management, 80(1-3), 5-22.
  9. United Nations. General Assembly. (2010). Resolution 64/292 (A/RES/64/292) adopted by the General Assembly on 28 July 2010. The human right to water and sanitation. United Nations Publication, Genebra, 3.
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