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UNITED NATIONS Press Release
COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS ADOPTS GENERAL COMMENT ON RIGHT TO WATER
CESCR29th session26
12/03/2002

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted this afternoon a General Comment on the right to water which stresses that water is a limited natural resource and a public commodity fundamental to life and health. General Comment No. 15 notes that over 1 billion people lack access to basic water supply, while several billion lack access to adequate sanitation, a primary cause of water contamination and diseases linked to water. The continuing contamination, depletion and unequal distribution of water resources are exacerbating existing poverty, the comment states.

The comment also emphasizes that States parties to the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights have the duty to progressively realize, without discrimination, the right to water. The human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, affordable, physically accessible, safe and acceptable water for personal and domestic uses, the text notes. The General Comment was adopted under the Committee's agenda item on substantive issues arising in the implementation of the International Covenant. On Friday, the Committee held a one-day preliminary discussion of the draft general comment.

Although the International Covenant does not expressly refer to the word "water", the Committee determined that the right to water is clearly implicit in the rights contained in Covenant articles 11 and 12. The Committee is expected to reconvene at 10 a.m. Friday, 29 November, to finalize its work and to close its autumn three-week session. General Comment on Right of Water The General Comment notes that water is a limited natural resource and a public commodity fundamental to life and health.

The Committee has been confronted continually with widespread denial of the right to water in developing as well as developed countries. Over 1 billion persons lack access to a basic water supply, while several billion lack access to adequate sanitation, a primary cause of water contamination and diseases linked to water, the comment states. The continuing contamination, depletion and unequal distribution of water resources is exacerbating existing poverty. States parties have the duty to progressively realize, without discrimination, the right to water. The human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, affordable, physically accessible, safe and acceptable water for personal and domestic uses, the text states. While those uses vary between cultures, an adequate amount of safe water is necessary to prevent death from dehydration, to reduce the risk of water-related disease and to provide for consumption, cooking, personal and domestic hygienic requirements.

The right to water contains both freedom and entitlements; the freedoms include the right to maintain access to existing water supplies necessary for the right to water; and the right to be free from interference, such as the right to be free from arbitrary disconnections or contamination of water supplies, the text states. The elements of the right to water should be adequate for human dignity, life and health. The adequacy of water should not be interpreted narrowly, by mere reference to volumetric qualities and technologies. Water should be treated as a social and cultural good, and not primarily as an economic commodity. The manner of the realization of the right to water should also be sustainable, ensuring that the right can be realized for present and future generations.

Further, the General Comment notes that States parties have a constant and continuing duty, in accordance with the obligation of progressive realization, to move expeditiously and effectively towards the full realization to the right to water. Realization of the right should be feasible and practicable, since all States parties exercise control over a broad range of resources, including water, technology, financial resources and international assistance, as with all other rights in the Covenant.
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