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ISN Quiz: Surviving the Coming Scarcity

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The Usual Suspects: Abstaining the Water Vote

Clean public drinking water in the Democratic Republic of Congo, photo: Julien Harneis/flickr

The usual suspects never fail to disappoint. With 122 countries voting in favor and 41 abstaining, the UN General Assembly has recently declared clean water and sanitation as a fundamental human right, a move hailed by water rights activists as a “big step in the right direction.” Although passing with an overwhelming majority, the vote’s abstentions are disconcerting, although, considering the culprits, not surprising.

The usual suspects—United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Israel—attempted to justify their abstentions through unconvincing procedural language. Substantively, they argued that declaring water as a human right has no sufficient legal basis in customary international law. Isn’t that the exact purpose of this declaration, to move in that direction? Before the non-binding Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948, most human rights now enshrined in treaty law was also not part of international law. Like the UDHR, the current water rights declaration has the power to fuel the onset of a normative and legal shift focusing on codifying the right to clean water and basic sanitation in enforceable treaty laws. The second argument, of a procedural in character, proposes that the vote would disrupt ongoing water rights negotiations at the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva. Why would the HRC—a 47-member body—be deemed more appropriate a forum than the more democratic and representative 192-member General Assembly? If anything, the current declaration can help guide and even compliment the negotiations in Geneva.

So why abstain from such a seemingly basic declaration?

Still Water Runs About 50 Cents

Lotte Icic DMZ water
Lotte Icic DMZ water / Photo: lottechilsung.co.kr

How about a taste of the icy waters of a frozen conflict?

South Korean beverage company Lotte Chilsung’s ‘Lotte Icic DMZ 2km‘ water may quench your thrist. The spring water hails from the accidental nature area that emerged in the buffer zone between North and South Korea.

The folks at the Lotte Chilsung say that the South Korean Ministry of the Enviroment will use the water as part of its campaign for the zone to become a UNESCO biosphere protection site. According to the Guardian, environmentalists say there are close to “2,900 plant species, 70 mammals and 320 types of bird flourishing in the zone.”

The article says a bottle of DMZ water is about GBP.30 ($.50)

From the company site: “‘DMZ’ is one region in the world that the ecosytem is well preserved as it is and has been out of human reach for 50 years.”

Well that’s a diplomatic way of putting it.

Hat tip to Monocle.