Water is a Human Right!

March 22-24, 2023, for the first time after 40 years, the United Nations held a big conference on water in New York. As Blue Community, VPOD participated in the activities around this conference. Roland Brunner took position on behalf of the trade union.

Water is a Human Right

We call Earth the Blue Planet, because it has an abundance of water. From the orbit, the planet looks blue. But in many places, it looks everything else but blue on the ground. Growing areas on our planet do have little or no water. And we are wasting our water, polluting and destroying water circuits, leaving millions of people in poverty, without water to drink, to grow food, to raise cattle. But water is the vital source for all life on this planet, for humans, animals, plants.

Every human being has the right to have access to safe, clean drinking water and to sanitation. The United Nations make it clear: Water is not a luxury, not a privilege. It is a basic human right.

And because water is a basic human right, it must be protected and guaranteed by the governments, by the states that signed the UNO Declaration on Human Rights. They are responsible on local, national and international level to make sure, every human being on this planet not only holds this right, but can live and enjoy it. The protection of water as a human right is therefore an important political duty to every government. But all to often, citizens have to fight for their right – even against their own government and very often against private companies.

Human rights are of political concern. Only democracy, with the full and equal participation of all citizens, holders of the human rights, can guarantee that human rights are respected. Citizens with their right to vote and to elect their representatives, with their own structures and associations, must be in the position to exercise the control, that their human right to water and sanitation is respected. Governments are to respect and to protect these rights with the institutions of the state.

Private companies can provide services to the state and to the citizens by building, running and maintaining infrastructure. But they must never be allowed to take over the control over water. Private companies run for profits, as they have to provide benefits to their owners, to the stockholders. To them, water is not a human right, but a commodity to make profits from, be it by neglecting infrastructure and maintenance, by selling it as bottled water to the citizens, or by providing it to the customers paying most for it.

2018, the right wing majority in the parliament came up with a project for a new water law. It included the possibility, to at least partially privatize water. We could not accept this law and forced it to a popular referendum. Beginning of 2019, the right-wing project was defeated in the vote and we won a clear majority. In the meantime, we have a new water law, and the privatization of water services is explicitly forbidden.

Water is a human right and not a commodity to make money from. Therefore, water must be in public hands, under public control, serve public interests. Only under public control, water can be guaranteed as a human right. That is what we as a trade union of public service employees stand and fight for. As we have proven: We can win this fight, but we have to fight it. That is why we became a Blue Community.

Roland Brunner, Swiss trade union of public service employees VPOD Zurich

Water is a Human Right!