On July 28, the United Nations General Assembly voted to declare that access to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation is a basic human right.
Originally proposed by Bolivia and co-sponsored by 35 states, the resolution passes with 122 states voting in favor of it and 41 abstaining.
An estimated 884 million people do not have access to clean water and over 2.6 billion do not have access to basic sanitation. Consequently, 1.5 million children under the age of five die each year and 443 million school days are lost because of diseases related to water or sanitation.
Mikhail Gorbachev, who founded the environmental NGO Green Cross International in 1993, recently wrote an op-ed further explaining why the right to clean water is so significant."As population growth and climate change increase the pressure for adequate water and food, water will increasingly become a security issue. As global temperatures rise, 'water refugees' will increase."
Gorbachev also contends that investing in clean water benefits those in need as well as the global economy. "A $20 million investment in low-cost water technologies could help 100 million farming families escape extreme poverty. Dedicating $15 billion a year to the water and sanitation millennium goals could bring $38 billion a year in global economic benefits. That’s a pretty good rate of return in today’s financial climate."
The UN's resolution will not result in sudden changes for those currently without clean water and sanitation, but it will place more pressure on governments to ensure the well-being of their citizens. In addition Catarina de Albuquerque, the UN Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation, is expected to deliver an annual report to the General Assembly showing the steps being taken to ensure this basic right as well as tracking its progress.