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“Water and life are inseparable,” writes Rev. Donald Pelotte, SSS, in his paper God’s sacred gift of water. Water is a human right, in that, to the extent one has the right to live, one has the right to water.

Fresh water’s growing scarcity is one of the greatest calamities facing humankind. Alarming concerns, such as about the “commodification” of water, its distribution and its irreversible pollution, are pushing people to mobilize for action.

  • The indigenous people of Bolivia understand water as part of the Earth that belongs to all. This recognition led them to defend their water from both the government and corporations, such as Bechtel, that had appropriated ownership of a common good.
  • Public disasters with water management in the Philippines have resulted in campaigns to provide a means for people to demand a share in the management of their water. The people have developed the concept of National Patrimony, which would require public resources to be regulated by the state, but primarily on behalf of all the people. In the Cordillera region of Luzon, the destruction of the Abra River is an example of ruthless mining practices, which have caused the disintegration of whole ecosystems. This has generated a public movement to bring the mining interests that have caused this devastation to justice.
  • In Panama, the people of a rural community caught one corporation’s scouts trying to deceive the community into signing away their water rights. Also, in total disregard of the documented fact that most water comes from fresh water lakes, the companies involved in further developing the Panama Canal are seriously considering directing a new canal through the largest lake in Central America, thus destroying it as a water source forever.
  • On the Mexico-U.S. border at present, there is a growing need to address both the scarcity of and the insufficient treatment of water in order reduce health risk among populations on both sides of the border.
  • In some African countries, the lack of water has brought people together to plant trees. This is a reminder that the uncontrolled deforestation in so many places has caused the disastrous diminishment of fresh water.

Realizing that the need for fresh water had become a growing crisis, the United Nations dedicated the year 2003 as International Year of Freshwater, and has established 2005 to 2015 as International Decade for Action, “Water for Life.”

Within the UN process itself the growing scarcity of water brought together nations, NGOs, corporations and individuals, all thirsting for water, but in very different ways. The Commission on Sustainable Development, therefore, dedicated two years of work on issues of and actions for Water, Sanitation, and Human Habitat. Out of these serious discussions were developed basic principles: Water as a Global Common and as a ‘human right’ - for the whole Community of Life. If these principles are followed the human community will be enabled to address with justice: water for all.

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