Universal right to water, a mirage in its twilight years


The universal right to water is still a mirage, albeit included among the Sustainable Development Goals in UN Agenda 2030. A mirage in its twilight years.

Universal right to water, the UN proclamation

On 7/28/10 the General Assembly

of the United Nations, in New York, recognized that ”

clean water and sanitation are an essential human right for the full enjoyment of the right to life and all other human rights

‘. Access toclean water thus became part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As an inviolable and primal right, since the water resource is indispensable to the enjoyment of every other right.

On 9/25/15 theinsurance, to all inhabitants of the planet, of drinking water and sanitation’ has been included among the ‘Sustainable Development Goals‘ (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly with a view to 2030. It is the sixth goal of the 17 set, though ontologically connected to the first two (‘

End Poverty

‘ e ‘

Zero Hunger


Clean and accessible water for all
is an essential element of the world we want to live in, and there is enough fresh water on the planet to achieve this. However, due to poor economic conditions or poor infrastructure, millions of people-including children-die each year from diseases associated with inadequate water supplies, sanitation and hygiene.

Water scarcity

, poor water quality and inadequate sanitation negatively affect food security

, livelihood choices and educational opportunities for poor families around the world. At present, more than 2 billion people live with the risk of reduced access to freshwater resources, and by 2050 at least one in four people are at risk of living in a country affected by chronic or recurrent freshwater shortages. (1)

Drought plagues some of the world’s poorest countries in particular, worsening hunger and malnutrition. Fortunately, great progress has been made in the past decade in drinking water sources and sanitation, so that more than 90 percent of the world’s population now has access to improved sources of drinking water‘ (UN, SDGs, ‘Goal 6 – Ensure access to water and sanitation for all‘).

Right to water, widespread indifference

UN Resolution 28.7.10 was passed with 122 votes in favor and 40 abstentions. And it is curious to note among the abstainers various countries of the Atlantic Alliance (USA, Canada, UK, Turkey) and their sodalists (Israel, Japan, Australia, Ireland, Holland, Sweden, Austria, Greece). Recalling, among other things, how some of them have repeatedly resorted to restrictions and blockades of water networks shared with other countries in order to exert political coercion. (2) And the ford remains dry, nine years after making commitments that are expected to reach full implementation within the next decade.

Human rights to water and sanitation entail an obligation on UN member states and the companies that provide the relevant public services on their territories-to ensure that everyone can afford access to essential services. However, the actual scenario is far from the goals, as water stress levels in many countries in North Africa and Asia are over 70 percent. In 2015, only 27 percent of LDCs had basic water services. And the vast majority of populations in at least 80 countries around the world will continue to drink non-potable water until 2030, according to ‘Water Aid‘ forecasts.

In fact, the United Nations found no significant changes either in the legislation of the various countries or in terms of improving the availability and quality of this indispensable resource. And it is not possible to calculate how many countries will actually achieve Goal 6 of the UN 2030 Agenda, given the (lack of) political will and the substantial funding required. Following extensive analysis, ‘Water Aid‘ estimates that some countries-such as Namibia, Eritrea, and Nicaragua, to name a few-will have to wait another 500 years before universal access to sanitation is guaranteed.

The diseases of poverty

continue to claim victims, especially in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs, ‘

Low and Middle Income Countries

‘). More than 1,000 children die every day from diseases (e.g., dysentery, respiratory tract infections) in addition to chronic malnutrition, according to UNESCO and could be largely prevented by the availability of clean water and basic sanitation infrastructure. The deficiency of which also negatively affects, among other things, children’s learning and growth. That is, on the present and future of the planet.

Water, ‘
water grabbing
and conflicts

Blue gold is a cause and instrument of conflicts, often unnoticed and otherwise underestimated, as well as political instability and social tensions. The World Bank has documented 507 ongoing conflicts related to the control of water resources. The drought in Syria, to cite one of the most famous cases, marked one of the most serious conflicts in the past fifty years.

The Middle East is home to three major basins, Tigris, Euphrates and Jordan. The springs are located in Turkey, while its courses run through northern Syria. Not forgetting the Yarmuk River, a key tributary of the Jordan. And it is evident how the control of three basins means deciding the survival of the populations that live by the availability of their waters.

In Iraq, the scene of another of the bloodiest conflicts in contemporary history, the Prima Parthica mission is still engaged in the defense of the Mosul Dam. Teams of soldiers are manning the crucial water network junction located just 38 kilometers from the center of Baghdad, where maintenance work is being carried out by the Italian Trevi Group. And still in July 2018, Iraqi forces broke up a sleeper cell of extremists ready to attack the dam. While in Basra, toward the border with Kuwait, people took to the streets in January 2019 to protest against the price of water that exceeded the price of gasoline. (3)

In Asia, the sharing of the Indus and Tista blue gold has been a cause of conflict between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh for years, where the lives of entire communities in West Bengal and Bangladesh are at stake. And the situation is in some ways similar to that experienced by countries in the Indochinese region, which contend for the resources of the Mekong River.

Water for Life

Water-related conflicts are increasing and are bound to increase, in part because of pressure on water bodies that is exacerbated, globally, by:

  • Extreme climate phenomena (floods and inundations, droughts, rising sea levels) associated with ‘

    climate change


  • increasing demand for water due to population growth, but also asymmetric socioeconomic development and consumption patterns.

In 2050 global demand for water will grow by 20-30% over current levels, partly due to increased demand for industrial, agricultural and domestic uses. A systems approach is increasingly essential and urgent in order to address a planetary ecological and social crisis that nevertheless continues to elude the reflections of those who ‘spin the world’s wheels,’ now increasingly dry.

Water is the stuff of life
. It is matrix, mother, medium. There is no life without water‘ (Albert Szent Gyoryi).


Dario Dongo and Ylenia Desireé Patti Giammello


(1) The global water scenario, according to other sources, is notably more severe. Cf.

(2) The motion for the 2010 U.N. resolution on the right to water was submitted by Bolivia (a country that included this right in its Constitution, in 2009) along with Brazil then led by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. With support from Spain, Germany, and France (where, following privatization of integrated water services, there is a gradual return to fully public management)

(3) V.