The Chron’s skewed notions of water and rights

Pub date December 26, 2008
SectionPolitics Blog

by Amanda Witherell


“Is there a right to water?” The San Francisco Chronicle’s editors asked today. The editorial outlined how water isn’t currently considered a human right by the UN, an issue the Guardian also recently covered. The Chron still found a way to criticize the notion that we all deserve a clean, safe glass of it.

“Enshrining water as a right sounds innocent. But it carries multiple implications. On one level, such a right would put nations on notice to upgrade water systems to make sure all their citizens have access. It’s an inarguable ideal for a human necessity.”

They go on: “But it also carries a political undercurrent. Such a right would be a powerful signal to international water companies such Veolia, Suez and RWE (all based in Europe) that their attentions are unwelcome in developing countries. These poor nations are prime targets as their leaders wrestle with the costs and engineering needs to improve outdated pipes, dams and spigots. In this setting, water shifts from a [sic] everyday need to an economic issue.”

Doubtless water is an economic issue – it costs money to install pipes, pumps, filtration systems, and monitoring equipment. It costs money to keep the system running properly. It costs money to ensure the cleanliness of water sources. How much should it cost? Should that cost include a profit margin?

Corporations and private companies would contend that governments just don’t have enough money to do the massive infrastructure improvements that are called for worldwide – in the US alone water infrastructure needs amount to a $1 trillion investment.