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Scientific paper


A European Citizens’ Initiative for implementation of The human right to water and sanitation in European law.

Jerry van den Berge

Entry type:
Scientific paper

Year of publication:

Degrowth Conference Venice 2012


Summary: The United Nations have recognised the universal human right to water and sanitation on 28 July 2010, through Resolution 64/292. In this resolution the UN acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are key factors to the accomplishment of all human rights. The Resolution calls upon States and international organisations to provide financial resources, help in capacity-building and technology transfer with the objective to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all. The resolution was hailed by many as a “historic” achievement, but as the international community commemorated the second anniversary of that resolution in July 2012, there was hardly any political rejoicing either inside or outside the United Nations. (IPS, 2012)
“This human right is yet to be fully implemented,” complained a coalition of 15 international non-governmental organisations (NGOs), whose members describe themselves as “water justice activists”. “Two years on we have not yet seen the sort of step change in effort needed to reverse the historical neglect of water and, more particularly, sanitation in international development cooperation” added Tom Slaymaker, senior policy analyst at WaterAid.
The European Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights. The European Union shall contribute to (...) eradication of poverty and the protection of human rights. The rule of law and human rights are not the only principles on which the European Union is founded. The expansion of a common market has arguably been more influential. (Both Ends, 2008)
A European Citizens’ Initiative is a means for participatory democracy. Citizens can bring an issue to the European political agenda by collecting one million signatures coming from at least seven different countries. The European federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) decided to take up this challenge and try to put the ‘human right to water and sanitation’ on the EU agenda, with overarching goal of implementing the human right to water and sanitation in European legislation. The aims of this European Citizens’ Initiative are to ensure water and sanitation for every person in the European Union; to achieve universal (global) access to water and sanitation and to safeguard the limited public water resources for future generations.
Water is not a commodity; it is a fundamental human right and a public (common) good. The campaign aims to ensure that water is seen as a public good and that protecting our water environment prevails over commercial interests. The mind-set of the European Commission is currently that of a market-based approach with the focus on competition. This approach is only increasing inequalities and not serving a more equitable, sustainable and just society. A rights-based approach is advocated.
In the implementation of the right to water and sanitation, special consideration must be given to certain groups: women, workers and rural communities. Women are disproportionately affected by the absence of clean water and the lack of private sanitation facilities, yet often left out of policy and decision-making spheres. Workers in water services should be involved in all aspects of the provision of water services, also in decision-making processes. Rural communities are vulnerable as big urban centres fan out looking for new sources of water. The right to water and sanitation means that they should be in control over their sources of water and watersheds.
Realization of the human right to water and sanitation must be built on justice for all these groups. The ECI is a tool for participatory democracy and to be tested in its usefulness to achieve implementation of this human right and to achieve a (paradigm-)shift in EU (water) policy.

Contribution to the 3rd International Degrowth Conference for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity in Venice in 2012.

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