Opinions
Allison Cully/the Gauntlet

Thirsting after sanity

Why the UN decision to declare water a need, not a right, is absurd

Publication YearIssue Date 

Demonstrating that intellectual honesty isn't necessary for international agreements, a majority of countries declined to acknowledge access to clean water as a human right at a United Nations meeting in Istanbul this past Sunday.

At the conclusion of the fifth incarnation of the World Water Forum a majority decision was reached that access to clean water is a human need, not a human right. A minority contingent of 20 or so nations dissented from the majority point, declaring that water is, in fact, a human right. Shamefully, Canada was amongst those who opted for the easy way out and decided that turning their back on such an obvious right as water was the best option. The rational for such a morally bankrupt stance was that if access to clean water was considered a human right, then Canada might be legally obligated to provide water or services to nations that do not enjoy the same resource benefits that we do.

This resolution exposes a stunning swindle on the part of the international community-- the notion that humans don't have a right to something they literally can't live without. Setting aside the absurd statement that a human need could be distinct from a human right in any instance, the failure of water to be considered a human right undermines the very principle of human rights in general. Given that water is the fundamental sustainer of life, if it is not considered a human right, what possibly could be? Indeed, when one considers the basic human rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights it becomes very clear that, in the context of that document, water is inescapably a basic human right. Article 3 unequivocally states that "[e]veryone has the right to life, liberty and security of person." People cannot live without water, so the question of whether water itself is explicitly recognized as a human right is redundant.

It is understandable that various nations are concerned about the implications of declaring water a basic human right. Obviously, any country should be wary about obliging itself to perform some task, even if it is immediately recognizable as a good thing to do. But in no sense can this most recent calamity be seen as anything other than nonsense. As the most basic human need, water forms the foundation upon which all human rights are built. Lacking water, there would be no life, lacking life there would be no one to claim or exercise their rights. Denying that water is a basic human right is tantamount to denying the very possibility of rights as such. If countries want to avoid obligation to help others with their water situations that is one thing, but to seek to achieve this end by brazenly rallying against the clear fact that water supports life, and as such all human rights necessarily flow out of it, is disingenuous gibberish of the highest order.

But maybe facts are only facts if they're compatible with inaction.

Section: 

Issue: 

Comments

Siró In your article you argue that by extension the right to life implies that humans have a right to water. This is a gross misunderstanding of what it means for an individual to have a right. The concept, properly understood, does not refer to entitlement, but to freedom from force. Having the right to liberty, for example, does not mean that you are entitled to own a personal jet. It simply means that no one has the right to restrict your liberty. Having the right to free speech does not entitle you to a bullhorn and an auditorium. It simply means that no one may prevent you from gaining lawful access to the means of expressing yourself. Similarly, the right to life does not guarantee you the means of your survival, but rather, ensures that no one has the authority to prevent you from promoting your life by your own efforts. The significance of a right being a freedom and not an entitlement is that the former allows for the pursuit of oneís happiness and the latter demands it of others. Sincerely, Zev Barnett www.the-undercurrent.com/blog

The author should be commended for taking rights seriously, and asking the fundamental question of what is a right. Unfortunately, his answer to this question is completely wrong. For those interested in exploring the issue further, I recommend Ayn Rand's article, "Man's Rights." It is a concise and clear exposition of rights, and discusses all of the fallacies present in this editorial. It is available online here: http://alturl.com/79ya

Why was it necessary to disguise the link to the Ayn Rand Center for Individual rights?

http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=arc_ayn_rand_man_rights