Battle for water on the blue planet
On the last day of the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights, the film “También la lluvia” (“Even the rain”) raised the issue of access to water.
In “También la lluvia”, Iciar Bollain, the film director, stages the protests that took place in Cochabamba, Bolivia in 2000, also known as the “Water War in Bolivia”.
A young Spanish filmmaker travels to Bolivia to make a film about Christopher Columbus to reveal the explorers’ inhumanity. But the Amerindians he hires to act in the film are fighting to prevent their water supply from being privatised, which will soon oblige the filmmaker to choose between his film and the local population’s struggle for their right to water.
Right to water: a fundamental human right jeopardized by privatisation
The right to water is now considered as a fundamental human right, but a few decades ago it was not that obvious. Indeed, right to water is not consecrated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. It is only very recently, in 2010, that access to drinking water was eventually established as a human right, with the aim of relieving the tensions that have been continuously intensifying over the past few years. On the initiative of Bolivia, the United Nations voted a resolution consecrating the right to water, though most developed countries voted against it.
The protests in Cochabamba were due to the privatisation of water supply (at the World Bank’s request): such contract was unacceptable for the local populations who had to pay a lot more, even if they did not have access to water. After several months of demonstrations, the Bolivian government finally decided not to privatise water supply.
During the discussion that followed the screening of the film, the panelists disagreed on the issue of privatisation: some said that right to water could not be guaranteed by private companies, especially for the poorest populations in developing countries, while others did not see the contradiction between right to water and privatisation.
In the majority of countries, public authorities supply water to the populations, but 10% of the sector is outsourced to private companies.
An issue of sanitation
One of the panelists stressed that access to water is not sufficient to guarantee the right to water: water has to be of good quality. This remains an issue of great concern since many people die because of contaminated water. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), access to water is defined by three elements:
– 20 liters per person per day
– the source must be less than one kilometer away from households
– water must be free of contamination from animals feces
Such definition lacks of precision and needs to be clarified and reinforced.
Access to water is also an issue of hygiene and sanitation: today, 5 million people in the world have access to mobile phones, while only 2.5 million have access to sanitation! This constitutes an infringement to human dignity.
One of the Millennium Development Goals for 2015 is to halve the number of people without access to safe water. At the moment, we are unfortunately still very far from achieving this goal…