Access to clean, potable water a legal right

>> Friday, February 17, 2017

Ike Señeres

It is one thing to say that water is a basic human need, it is another thing to say that having access to clean potable water is a legal right. On one hand, we could say that since water is a basic human need, then the government is legally and morally obliged and duty bound to provide it to all citizens.
On the other hand, if the sense of duty of government officials is not enough motivation for them to provide clean potable water to all citizens, then it would be more than enough to compel them to do so, otherwise they have to answer to the law. Just in case any government official is reading this and they could not understand one part of this or the other, they can contact me via text or email.
As it is now, potable water in many parts of the country are already commoditized as a utility. That may sound good at the outset; that could actually be a problem for those who could not afford to pay for the initial connection or pay for the monthly bills. In some foreign countries, that problem is solved by providing federal, state or local subsidies, but that concept seems to be totally alien here.
As I see it, some water utility providers may offer liberal terms for the payment of the initial fees, but that is about it. The result of this predicament is an ironic situation wherein the poor people would end up paying more for bottled water, more than what the rich people are paying for their tap water.
Yet another irony is that many lawmakers and government officials could hardly see and feel the problem of not having clean potable water or having to pay for it at higher prices, because they do not experience it, having their own tap water connection that flows all the time.
This situation is akin to the claims of lawmakers and government officials who were so proud to take the so-called “MRT Challenge”, a feat for them that only revealed the truth that they never had to ride the MRT, and thus they were unable to see and feel the problems that are experienced by those who ride the MRT every day. One way or the other, this would also apply to the lawmakers and government officials who have never experienced hunger and poverty in their entire lives.
Given the fact that access to clean potable water is a legal right, how can the people ever demand that right? Never mind the fact that that water is actually a basic human need, because the government could actually just ignore it, just as it is also practically ignoring the delivery of many other basic human needs.
In the case of water being a legal right however, the government could supposedly not ignore it, because it is answerable to the people, at least in theory. Since there is nothing vague about this issue, the only question remaining is how the government could honor this right if the people would demand it, by way of invoking their rights to have it.
“Clean Water and Sanitation” is number six in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations (UN), and the actual goal is “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”. As defined, the SDGs are simply just “goals” and not legal “rights” in the language of the UN.
However, it is generally understood that all member countries of the UN are morally obliged to aim for the achievement of all the 17 goals, including water of course. Since we failed to meet most of the 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) last 2015, we better meet the SDGs by 2030. This is a national challenge that we should all work together to meet, and not just the government.
Two recent moves of the Duterte Administration could be seen as the right steps towards ensuring the sustainable management of our water supply for the future. The first move is the removal of the illegal fish pens in Laguna Lake, and the second move is the closure of mines in areas that are near our watersheds. As of now, Laguna Lake may not be a good source of clean water, but it could be made clean later.
As of now, the closed mines may be contaminated with chemicals, but these could still be cleaned also by using remediation technologies. As of now, we may not see the value of what the government has done, but I am sure that the future generations will be thankful for what President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and Secretary Gina Lopez have done.

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