On 5 October 2022, the EU Parliament adopted a resolution, which identifies the right to clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right. This resolution underlines the EU’s commitment to ensure that all people worldwide have appropriate access to water and to take further action to achieve this objective.
As early as 2010, the United Nations General Assembly had adopted a resolution, which recognised the right to clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right. However, many EU Member States abstained from the vote, Austria being one of them. Only when more than 1,8 million Europeans signed the citizens initiative “right2water”, the path at European level towards concrete legislative acts implemented by the EU became open. In this context, the Drinking Water Directive, which determines quality standards für drinking water in Europe and provides for promoting access to clean water, is of particular significance. Even though this Directive, adopted in 2020, is a step in the right direction and many demands of the citizens initiative have been implemented, the EU failed to classify water as a human right until the now adopted resolution of the EU Parliament.
Key elements of the resolution
Apart from the fundamental recognition of access to water as a human right, the resolution includes further relevant commitments. Hence, the dependence of the right to life and health on appropriate access to water, sanitation and hygiene is being determined thereby underlining the importance of water for everyone. Reference is also made to the fact that recognising the right to drinking water and sanitation has a major influence on global social and environmental justice by ensuring greater awareness of access to water, and that any new political measures shall in particular benefit the most marginalised groups in developing countries. In this context, the EU Parliament also urges the EU and its Member States to increase the focus on access to water and sanitation during multilateral negotiations. In the future, water management shall also pursue primarily ecological interests and practices shall be subjected to environmental and human-rights impact assessments, which are to strengthen the right to drinking water.
Water and globalisation
The right to appropriate access to water is playing a vital role in particular within the scope of globalisation and cross-border trade. Against the background of environmental damage and numerous human rights violations by the reckless action of large companies, the EU is currently working on a Supply Chain Law, which may also play an essential role regarding the international enforcement of the right to drinking water. In many places, water privatisation does also cause many problems regarding comprehensive water supply and must therefore be viewed critically. In this context, the EU Parliament emphasises in the resolution that water is a common public good and that water supply and sanitation are services of general interest. The resolution also emphasises that within the scope of sustainable development water must not be allowed to be treated as a commodity without further social and cultural considerations.