Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 29, 2004
No right to water -- Canada
CCODP challenges Ottawa to admit people have a right to water
By ART BABYCH
Canadian Catholic News
Canadian non-governmental organizations, including the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, are pressing the Liberal government to recognize access to water as a human right but Ottawa is standing firm.
At a news conference on Parliament Hill March 22 marking World Water Day, four NG0s called Canada's position "immoral."
Maude Barlow, national chair of the Council of Canadians, said, "Canadians would be shocked to learn that we were the only country, of the 53 on the Human Rights Commission, that voted 'no' to recognizing this essential human right."
"Every eight seconds a child dies of lack of water in our world," Barlow said. "We are here today because we are appalled at this reality and this situation and we believe deeply that Canada should be taking a leadership position in the world to avert this and to work toward a world in which every child is entitled to water."
Anne-Marie Jackson, spokesperson for the CCODP, said World Water Day is "a good day to recognize that 1.1 billion people do not have access to clean water." She said 6,000 children in Asia, Africa and Latin America die each day from lack of clean water.
"We're calling on Canada very clearly to change its position on the human rights of water," Jackson said.
She noted that over 175,000 Canadians so far have signed a CCODP declaration launched last fall affirming that access to water is a human right.
Tony Clarke, of the Polaris Institute, said corporations are "taking over public water systems around the world, distributing water on the basis of the 'ability to pay,' not as a 'human right.'"
As an example, he said, 10 million people in the southern townships of South Africa have been cut off of their access to water supplies.
"The reason for this is that they simply couldn't pay the rising prices that were in turn monitored and regulated by state-of-the-art water meters put in place by the corporations."
Clarke said the federal government refuses to recognize water as a fundamental human right, "yet it turns around and supports the very institutions that support and promote and facilitate the privatization of water services," such as the World Bank and the World Trade organization.
The NGO representatives said there has been no indication that the government may be softening its position.
In the House of Commons the same day, Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham said the government examines all the proposals from the human rights commission. He was responding to a question from Bloc Quebecois MP Serge Cardin.
The Sherbrooke, Que., MP asked how Canada can maintain its position "when, today, World Water Day, four organizations, including Development and Peace, have tabled a petition bearing the signatures of 177,000 people in Quebec and Canada who denounce the government's refusal to recognize access to water as an essential human right."
Graham said, "It is very important to know what social and economic rights people have but as for everyone having a right to water, we must acknowledge that we are neighbours with a country that has its own ideas about access to water."
The minister added, "It is Canada's role to examine this very important concept of international law in conjunction with other states. We must work together with the international community to ensure this has an actual impact and does not remain mere rhetoric, as our colleague would have it."