Tuesday, July 7, 2009
As posted by Dev-Zone Development Work Update 3 July 2009
DEMANDING DIGNITY: THE HUMAN RIGHT TO WATER IN FIJI
While New Zealanders don’t blink an eye at turning the tap on, in some parts of the world water is a luxury people struggle to afford.
A staggering 1.1 billion people don’t have access to safe drinking water and around 42 per cent of the world’s population – 2.2 billion people – live without means of sanitation. About 1.6 million deaths a year are estimated to be caused by unsafe water.
Water is as fundamental to life as air. It provides an inexhaustible list of essential needs for survival. The World Health Organisation states the amount of water deemed ‘sufficient’ to meet basic drinking water and sanitation requirements is between 20 and 50 litres of water per day, per person.
The founding document of human rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, states that everyone has the right to an adequate and healthy standard of living. This implicitly recognises that access to water is an inalienable human right that governments must guarantee their citizens.
But in our part of the world there is a tug of war emerging between providing access to water and the idea of water as a business opportunity.
Fiji has started to make steps towards the privatisation of water, a move which is alarming human rights advocates, including Amnesty International Aotearoa NZ.
The Fijian Government is moving towards water corporatisation. They have already established The National Water Authority, designed to make Fiji’s water profitable.
Corporatisation is the first step towards privatisation and for the ordinary people of Fiji, this means they will have even less access to water. The vulnerable and poor being particularly at risk.
The move to privatise water services began under the previous SDL-led government which introduced the Water Authority Bill and sparked outrage from the NGO community and even the Fiji Human Rights Commission. The current government continues to implement this move towards privatisation.
"The government has a legal and moral obligation to promote, fulfil, respect and protect human rights of people and these include, the right to clean water, says Amnesty International's Pacific Team member, Apolosi Bose. Amnesty International calls on the Fijian government to ensure that any decision it takes must never impact adversely on the right to access to clean water by its citizens, and it should ensure that the public are widely consulted on any developments with regards to the process of privatisation." says Bose.
In a 2007 Government sanctioned committee established to decide the future of Fijian water, five out of nine members were prominent private sector affiliates. No civil society or consumer representatives were included or consulted.
Fiji ranks 92 out of 177 countries on the United Nation’s human development index. With 49% of Fijians living in urban areas and only just over 50% of the rural population having access to water sources adequate for drinking, this move begs the question of how privatisation will improve this situation.
History has shown that privatisation further compromises the ability for citizens to enjoy the right to equal, affordable, and physical access to water. Privatisation in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba sparked huge protests that shut down the city for four straight days, eventually forcing the government to put water back into the hands of the government. In South Africa where the right to water is enshrined in the Constitution, a public-private partnership for water services has failed to serve the most vulnerable and poorest citizens with their human right to water.
There is an acceptance in the international community, and international law, that water can be treated as an economic good. But the point of difference that water has which makes it different to other economic goods is that is it is essential, scarce, and non-substitutable. Water is essential to human survival, trading it as an economic good leads to a human rights violation.
Water companies using Fijian water as a commercial good have no allegiance, legally or otherwise, to the welfare of Fijian’s poorest citizens. And the benefits of privatisation are unlikely to reach Fijian citizens living in abject poverty.
In violation to the right of water, this latest move by the Fijian Government shows failure to prevent third parties - including companies and the National Water Authority – from interfering with their citizen’s right. No one should be able to take away a person’s right to water, least of all a government already failing to provide internationally accepted standards of essential resources.
To avoid a human rights crisis, the Fijian government must listen to the outcry of the local communities and civil society. Wide consultation and transparency on the future of Fijian water is imperative. The Fijian government must not put economic gain ahead of the welfare of its people – particularly when it involves a resource as fundamental as water. It must stop this process of privatisation before it is too late.
Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand ,
Te Piringa, 68 Grafton Road, Grafton, P O Box 5300, Wellesley Street, Auckland 1010
+64-9-303 4520 +64-9-303 4528 email@example.com www.amnesty.org.nz
Amnesty International is an independent movement of more 2.2 million people in over 150 countries who contribute their time, money and
expertise to campaigning to end some of the worst violations of human rights worldwide