The U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday declared access to clean water and sanitation a "human right" in a resolution that more than 40 countries including the United States didn't support.
The resolution adopted by the 192-member world body expresses deep concern that an estimated 884 million people lack access to safe drinking water and more than 2.6 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation. U.N. anti-poverty goals adopted by world leaders in 2000 call for the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation to be cut in half by 2015.
The non-binding resolution, sponsored by Bolivia, was approved by a vote of 122-0 with 41 abstentions including the United States and many Western nations though Belgium, Italy, Germany, Spain and Norway supported it.
Bolivia's representative said many rights have been recognized including the rights to health, life, and education. He said the Bolivian government introduced a resolution on the right to adequate water and sanitation because contaminated water causes more than 3.5 million deaths every year — more than any war.
U.S. diplomat John Sammis told the General Assembly that the United States "is deeply committed to finding solutions to our water challenges," but he said the resolution "describes a right to water and sanitation in a way that is not reflective of existing international law."
The resolution calls the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation "a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights."
It calls on U.N. member states and international organizations to provide funding, technology and other resources to help poorer countries "scale up" efforts to provide clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all people.
The resolution welcomes the U.N. Human Rights Council's call for Portuguese lawyer Catarina de Albuquerque, the U.N.'s independent expert on access to safe drinking water and sanitation, to report annually to the General Assembly on challenges to achieving the U.N. Millennium Development Goals.
The latest U.N. assessment on progress toward achieving the goals said that "with half the population of developing regions without sanitation, the 2015 target appears to be out of reach" but it said "the world is on track to meet the drinking water target, though much remains to be done in some regions" especially sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania.