Access to safe water is a fundamental human need and therefore a basic human right—Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary General
In 2016, Slovenia’s parliament voted unanimously to amend its constitution to make access to water a fundamental right for all citizens and halt its commercialization. This makes it the first European nation to do so.
Earlier, in 2007, Ecuador rewrote its constitution, ratified by referendum by the people of Equador in September 2008, recognizing Rights of Nature in its Constitution. This marked the first step for humanity in a major paradigm change. An article in The Global Alliance for The Rights of Nature, describes it this way: The new Ecuadorian Constitution includes a Chapter: Rights for Nature. Rather than treating nature as property under the law, Rights for Nature articles acknowledge that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles. And we – the people – have the legal authority to enforce these rights on behalf of ecosystems. The ecosystem itself can be named as the defendant.
“Everyone has the right to drinkable water,” says Slovenia’s constitution. “Water resources represent a public good that is managed by the state. Water resources are primary and durably used to supply citizens with potable water and households with water and, in this sense, are not a market commodity,” the amended constitution now reads.
“While the United States faces a major environmental backslide under President-elect Donald Trump, a small central European nation has become the first to enshrine the right to drinking water in their constitution,” writes Lacy Cooke of Inhabitat.
According to the new amendment in Slovenia’s constitution, drinkable water is a human right.
The Slovenian parliament voted in favour of the new law, partly to prevent the commercialization of the country’s water resources.
Prime Minister Miro Cerar described water as “the 21st century’s liquid gold.” The amended constitution ensures that all water resources, including those that are not being actively utilized yet, are protected from potential privatization, including state ownership,
All water resources are a public good in the administration/managed of the state. This means that nobody can get an ownership over them. Not even the state “which has to manage [the water] sustainably and exercise control over the extraction of drinking water and comply with the law,” says Brane Golubovic, of the Citizens Initiative. “This is our motto: ‘Without colour, without taste and without an owner – water is freedom!’”
The mountainous, over-half forested and water-rich country was recently named the world’s first green destination country. Its capital, Ljubljana, earned the title in 2016 of “European Green Capital”.
“Slovenian water has very good quality and, because of its value, in the future it will certainly be the target of foreign countries and international corporations’ appetites, such as Nestlé Waters and Coca-Cola,” said Golubovic.
The website, “The Rights To Water And Sanitation” lists the current countries (incomplete) that have enshrined the right to water within their national constitutions, or have framed the right explicitly or implicitly within national legislation. They add that, “Recognising the right to water and sanitation domestically is intrinsic to fulfilling the right, it entitles individuals to demand it politically, administratively and judicially. As a result of constitutional recognition, development and interpretation of legislation and policies must be in accordance to the right.”
The United Nations General Assembly voted in 2010 to recognize “the right to safe and clean drinking water as a human right.” The United States and Canada were among 40 nations that abstained The United States and 40 other countries abstained from the U.N. vote to recognize access to water as a human right.
“The question is not whether a human right to water exists, but whether our state and federal governments are fulfilling it,” write Sharmila Murthy and James Salzman of Suffolk University and UCLA in OnEarth. “The answer, for the residents of Flint, Michigan, Hoosick Falls, New York, and Jackson, Mississippi, is clearly no.” Murthy and Salzman pointedly add, “The United States has a shameful history of denying basic rights to people of color, and the concentration of water violations in African-American communities echoes those injustices.”
This brings to mind Detroit.
Countries who abstained in adopting the Unites Nations resolution recognizing access to clean water and sanitation as a human right put forward in 2010 include: Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Ethiopia, Greece, Guyana, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Latvia, Lesotho, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, United States, Zambia.
I applaud Slovenia.
Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and limnologist, and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.