Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Half a litre of clean water. I just got it from the fountain. I drink a few of these every day without even thinking about it.

But today, I'm thinking about it. It's World Water Day.

Last year, at this time, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the world that more people die from unsafe water than from all forms of violence, including war:

“These deaths are an affront to our common humanity, and undermine the efforts of many countries to achieve their development potential.”  

This year, the theme is focussed on urban challenges, which could not be more timely. Not only do the Third World's urban poor often lack access to drinkable water, but right now Japan is in a water crisis due first to the earthquake and tsunami, and now to radioactive contamination.

Other countries are rushing in to hydrate the Japanese, but the global nature of the water disaster is not as easy to quench.

But what can we do about it? For one thing, we can support international development efforts to improve water infrastructure. WaterAid, for example, works on an individual and family level to help vulnerable people access their own water. You can also make consumer choices that support your local water resources, by drinking tap water instead of bottled.

Politically, you can make yourself more aware of the dangers of water privatization. On July 28, 2010, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly agreed to a resolution declaring the human right to “safe and clean drinking water and sanitation.” Canada abstained.

Why? According to The Council of Canadians, the Canadian government had potential revenue to lose:
"The world’s water companies would like to see water regarded as a human need, enabling them to control and sell water to the highest bidder for profit. Because Canada manages the largest freshwater resources in the world, companies are lining up to pump, bottle and privatize our water for their profit. Despite the increasing threat to our water, the Canadian government has not updated its national water policy in over 15 years. Instead, governments over this period of time have continued to support free trade agreements that only further threaten our ability to safeguard our water for people and nature."

There are other issues too. When it comes to drinking water, Canada has some dirty little secrets. Our federal government is mandated to assist First Nations in ensuring safe drinking water in their communities. But there are some who fall off the radar.

A particularly egregious example is the plight of the Lubicon Cree. We have come to know more about this issue than the average Canadians through our work with Amnesty International.
"The Lubicon Cree live in the middle of the Alberta oil fields. Vast wealth has been taken from their land. In fact, the province’s share of this oil and gas wealth has been estimated to exceed $14 billion. Yet the Lubicon people live in conditions that would be unimaginable to most Canadians.
The Lubicon community of Little Buffalo has no running water and no sanitation system. Before the Alberta government permitted large-scale oil and gas development on their land, the Lubicon took their drinking water from the muskeg and the lakes and streams. They can no longer safely do so.
With ever more intensive forms of oil and gas development, including the beginning of oil sands extraction, there are increasing worries that even water deep below the ground may become unusable."

But I'll let the Lubicon youth tell you in their own words:

So while World Water Day focusses on cities, my thoughts are with a threatened people in my own country. Because when anyone, anywhere, is denied the right to safe water, everyone's human rights are at risk.


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