Today - 10 December - is the United Nations International Human Rights Day. This day was created to commemorate the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN General Assembly in 1948. The world was appalled of how human beings treated each other during the barbarism of World War II. Apart from war, humanity is faced with the challenge of providing clean water and decent sanitation for all. In 2010, the UN took another bold decision to recognise water and sanitation as a human right. Well done UN! The next question was how will governments translate the spirit of the UN resolution into service provision, especially when countries like USA and Britain where not a favour of the resolution? It was seen not to be sexy by a number of advocacy and campaigning groups. It also would not attract funding.
It was a recurring conversation about how difficult it is to talk about rights to the lay person. I did believe this mantra for some time now, until my recent experience. I was having a casual conversation with a British friend of mine - who is an accountant by profession - on general topics from grocery shopping, cars, commuting to work and childcare. Somewhere along the line, water made it into our conversation. When I told him that about 650 million lack access to clean water, which is an equivalent of the combined populations of United Kingdom, Germany, USA, Russian and Canada. And a good number of people who have been countered as having access to clean water include people who go for hours without running tape water or draw water from wells outside their homes. His reaction was “water is a human right - what are governments doing with the taxes?”. To be honest, I had least expected him to come out with such a strong reaction!
In another social event, I was amazed by the reaction of people when I introduce myself as a water advocate. This was a dinner at one of the prestigious Oxford university colleges. I spend the whole evening discussing water politics with Professors working on issues sounding too complex for a mere mortal like me -one of the Physics Professors present was working on inertia and fusion for example, don’t ask me to explain! They were pleasant people, very alert and asked probing questions. It was interesting to observe that towards the end of the evening, I overheard not less than one person talking the global water crisis, and how to fix it. Believe me, this was not an advocacy workshop!
I am becoming convinced that we need to reach out to people through less formal advocacy setups. Talk to people in the language they understand and meet them in their comfort zones - it could be at waiting to buy a ticket for a football match, at the pub or social events. I haven’t tried this on commuters just yet!
Human rights are there to protect people's basic needs in life, and they apply to each and every one of us. It’s time to ensure that everyone, everywhere, is able to realise their human rights, and to put an end to inequalities that prevent this for so many around the world. Happy Human Rights Day! "Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always." Today is a day to remember that.
Written by Al-Hassan Adam, EWP's International Coordinator