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UN declares access to safe drinking water a basic human right

The UN General Assembly [official website] on Wednesday adopted a resolution [materials] declaring that access to clean and sanitized drinking water is a basic human right [press release]. The resolution, passed by a vote of 122-0 with 41 member states abstaining, also requires the UN Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque [official profile], to report to the General Assembly annually. The initiative promotes progress to achieve Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) [official website] to reduce social and economic harms by 2015, including decreasing the number of people who cannot reach or afford safe drinking water and do not have basic sanitation by half. The resolution also expressed concern that approximately 884 million people are without access to safe drinking water and more than 2.6 billion people lack access to basic sanitation.

In March, Bolivian President Evo Morales [BBC profile] called on the UN [JURIST report] to declare access to safe drinking water a basic human right and introduced the resolution. Morales' administration has been working to increase access [NNN-Prensa Latina report] for Bolivian citizens to clean water since 2006, investing in new water and sewage systems throughout the country. Earlier this month, the Botswana High Court [SAFLII database] ruled that the indigenous Bushmen [National Geographic backgrounder], or San, people cannot reopen a well [JURIST report] or dig new wells in their village in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve [official website]. The closest source of water for the Bushmen is 25 miles from their village. The Botswana government has argued that the tribe's village in the game reserve is not a formal settlement and, therefore, the government is not required to provide the Bushmen with water. Spokesmen for the tribe announced in January [JURIST report] that they plan to take the land dispute issue to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website; JURIST news archive] because the government continues to ignore court orders granting land rights.

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