Recognizes the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights
Calls upon States and international organizations to provide financial resources, capacity-building and technology transfer, through internationalassistance and cooperation, in particular to developing countries, in order to scale up efforts to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all.
At the Canadian Water Network conference one topic that came up repeatedly related to pricing water equitably and how to do it in a way that benefits the 780 million people without access to clean and safe water and the 2.5 billion who don't have access to basic sanitation (UN GLAAS 2012 Report).
In response to a question from the audience, Margaret Catley-Carlson rephrased the question like this.
- First, is there a consistency between the UN declaration on water as a basic human right with the kind of charging for water that a number of speakers are recommending?
- Secondly, what is the corporate responsibility to the water challenged or to people where there is a resource insufficiency ?
Margaret Catley-Carlson's response is very interesting, especially bearing in mind that her background is government and NGOs, not the private sector. By way of background she has been active at the board level in the international water sector for over 15 years.
She was very direct, saying that "it has been the cruelest of constructs to equate a human right with free water, because of all those that cannot afford free water the poor are the ones that can least afford it." She went on to explain why. In city after city, village after village, systems where water is free or undercharged, particularly those that are run publicly, respond to those that have the most resources. When there isn't enough to go around, these systems favour more powerful people. You can wish that it weren't so. Mark Twain said water flows uphill, meaning it moves towards power. The last person in the irrigation line, the slum dweller, those that depend on water vendors, these are the people who have a theoretical right to water but because the systems don't work or break down they are the ones that are in fact under-served or not served at all. They are the ones we include in the billion people around the world that don't have access to clean and safe water.
She emphasized that these people [do better] when they live in areas that charge for water, but where there is a subsidy to them personally, not to the water company, for water usage. This is a very important distinction. Many cities and countries have a subsidy for the poorest people within the jurisdiction. This is done in a number of ways. In South Africa everybody gets a small amount of free water and then the next tranche of water delivery costs more, the next costs even more and at the swimming pool level both the rate and the volume are very high. In New York it is done by postal code numbers. In the UK and France it is done in a different way. In Chile the poor pay their water bill, but if they are receiving social assistance at the end of the year they get a heavy percentage of that water bill returned to them. They pay, but they get it back. Margaret applauds those jurisdictions that do have a subsidy for those that can least afford to pay their water bill. But she fully agrees with everybody being charged for water because that is the only way that you can make the water systems work.
She also pointed out that there is a right to food, but we all pay for food . Some say there is a right to education, and we certainly pay for education in one way or another through taxes or through direct school fees. From Margaret's perspective it has been "a cruel juxtaposition of issues to say that if it's a right, it has to be free. Because the ones that it has penalized are exactly the one billion people that don't have access to clean and reliable water. It's when you have a system that functions that the poor have access to clean water."
She added that in many of the countries where these people live there is no tax base and so therefore you cannot rely on the tax base to pay for water for the poor. The numbers that are involved are so much larger than any development assistance numbers that it is implausible to have development assistance pay for water for the poor. In short there are either taxes, tariffs or transfers. Those are the only things that have ever paid for water anywhere. You can charge people as taxpayers, but you have to transfer the money from general tax revenues. Then you'll get distortions in favour of certain neighbourhoods and away from others.
She sees tariffs as the best alternatve. "Over time the tariff is actually a poverty alleviation mechanism, and as a fulfilment of rights it does the superior job. So it's a question I like to receive because it think it is a cruel linkage to perpetuate [equating human right and free]. If you really care about poor people, then you will have a system that charges them slightly for water. "
Her experience supports this. "By the way poor people agree with me. When you go out to villages and you ask, if you had reliable water systems would you be willing to pay for it ? They say yes, absolutely, because they already pay now. They are paying vendors now and are often paying much more then they would be paying if they had a proper functioning water system."
Don Lowry's view, Don is past President and CEO of EPCOR Utilities, is that water is not an entitlement. It's a hard earned right and you have to be diligent and work 24x7 on continuously earning that right to have access to water and the sustainable, continuous supply of water. If you look at cost and usage of water in the OECD, you see the symmetrical difference. The highest price for water is in Germany and the cheapest price for water is in Canada. The highest consumption per capita is in Canada, and the absolute lowest consumption per capita is in Germany. Don's view is that you can't give it away for free, because we don't have it for free in the first place.. And it's proven by the leading countries that by pricing it appropriately it spurs innovation and conservation.
But for people who can't afford to pay much for water, Don said that EPCOR has what is called a lifeline level, a minimal level that ensures that you have enough water within your home or family for basic needs at an affordable price. But as you use more water, for example, if you have a swimming pool or if you want to have a jungle in your front yard and it's a desert, you're going to pay a lot for that. "We are going to reward customers that conserve, industries that find ways like PepsiCo and Suncor to make maximum use of every drop of water they've got."