World Water Week Conference: Access to Water a Human Right

A representative of the global humanitarian agency Church World Service said she was pleased with the World Water Week conference's "outright acknowledgment that access to water is key."

"Access to water, which is necessary for all life, is a human right," commented CWS Director of Education and Advocacy Rajyashri Waghray, who attended the 2009 World Water Week in Stockholm, representing CWS.

"Water is not a resource or a commodity to be made available only to people who can afford to pay for it," she added.

For four days last week, practitioners, scientific experts, decision makers and leaders from numerous countries gathered to exchange ideas and develop solutions in the wake of the ongoing international water crisis.

On Saturday, the last day of the conference, World Water Week participants unanimously expressed their support for the Stockholm Statement on water, climate change, and adaptation, which said water must be included in the COP-15 climate negotiations in Copenhagen this December.

"Water is a fundamental element in economies, communities, and public health," commented Anders Berntell, executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute, which organized the Aug. 19-22 conference. "We know that it is the medium through which climate change manifests its most serious effects. To be effective, climate negotiations must factor in the impact and importance of water for the world and, indeed, human well-being."

In the statement, conference participants affirmed their belief that climate change is happening and that it is adding complexity to existing global challenges.

"We urge the global water and climate communities to look beyond COP-15 and work through dialogue to strengthen global mechanisms that can enhance collective action on water and adaptation," the statement expressed. "These should include, but not be limited to, better sharing of knowledge and technology in support of adaptation measures in developing countries, active support for capacity building and access to improved levels of financing.

"Finally, the water community expresses its commitment to strengthening institutional cooperation at all levels between the climate, water and wider development communities under appropriate mechanisms and institutional arrangements in order to work more collectively to address the immense development challenges ahead," the statement concluded.

In her comments last week, Waghray said she views the conference's recognition of that fact that access to water is a human right as "a significant political will kind of statement; the first such move in the 19 years that this conference has been held."

In response to the ongoing international water crisis, CWS has both programmatic and advocacy initiatives, including its "Enough for All" campaign, which supports community efforts to obtain and manage their own safe drinking water supplies and water sources.

The global humanitarian agency partners with local organizations in developing countries to improve health and meet basic needs by providing safe and sufficient water and improved sanitation and hygiene; to provide sustainable food supplies through efficient use and management of water resources; to assure future access to water by protecting watersheds; and to maintain peace in water-stressed communities through fair and efficient water sharing and resource management.

In addition to its water development projects, CWS also has an robust ongoing advocacy campaign with a network of partner organizations and individuals who mobilize public support for congressional legislation that supports universal access to water and inclusion of access to water as a critical component of efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.