About the Author

Lara Smallman
Campaigner, film-maker, blogger (London, United Kingdom)

Self-taught film-maker interested in exploring human rights issues. See more on larasmallman.com.

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Published 18th January 2011 - 11 comments - 1843 views -

…'It shouldn’t be added to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights'...

 - Not my view, but the quite unexpected opinion of a colleague of mine. A colleague who had, just days before, enrolled on a one year-long human rights course. How could an engaged, informed and committed individual express such a view?

It went a little something like this: If we can’t guarantee delivery of it, we have no business promising it – well that was the basic gist of the argument given. In the not uncommon cases of war and natural disasters, it is near impossible to reach communities. In other words, we shouldn’t make promises we know we can’t keep.

What to make of this view?

Defeatist? Yes.

Shameful? If you ask me, most definitely.

A year on from that, and the UN, I am glad to say, finally declared both water (and sanitation) as human rights. After all, a human being can survive for one week without food. No water, and that goes down to just two, maximum three days. Accessing water is arguably the most crucial of all human rights, hence a much welcomed addition to the UDHR.

However, another twelve months pass by, and, quite astonishingly, the figures of those lacking access to clean water and sanitation have risen in the last ten years.

Saving grace -

- Perhaps, comes in the form of Millennium Development Goal 7, to ensure environmental sustainability, one target of which is to: “halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.” At last, the spotlight, albeit a small one, is put on water.

But just how are we doing with target 7.c?

The shiny, oh so colourful UN PDFs would have you believe we are well on our way to achieving the targets set. Hard as they try however, the uniform graphs and neatly laid out pie charts, cannot normalize the shocking reality that 2 billion people are today still waiting for the most fundamental right of all.

Uphill struggle

Two years on from sitting in that room surrounded by a bunch of eager beavers, all passionate about human rights, I’ve realized something - getting the UN to recognize the importance of water was just the start, and the 2010 resolution, only half the battle…

No more ifs, buts or maybes:

-       An estimated 884 million people are still waiting for access to safe drinking water.   

-       The lack of such access kills more children each year than AIDS, malaria and measles combined.

-       41 nations, that is one quarter of all nations, abstained from voting in 2010.

Which is the most shocking, I really don’t know.


Category: Human Rights | Tags:


  • Iwona Frydryszak on 18th January 2011:

    Hi Lara, for me the discussion about adding new points to Universal Declaration like for exemple ‘water’ is more important for advocating about issue that really opennin’ the discussion if right to water is really a human right. I think no one can doubt that water is a key to right to life which is guaranteed in Universal Declaration. However for those advocating for rights to water in particular situation, like in Gaza Strip or in Cochabamba, Bolivia (from which the discussion about right to water has started)the resolution is clue to persuade some decussion makers to put more effort in fight for access to safe water.

  • Ronny Patz on 18th January 2011:


    But isn’t this kind of advocacy - getting a sentence somewhere without direct policy effect - a waste of time and resources? The money and time spent to convince high level diplomats and politicians that such a sentence is useful invested in real change would be worth more for society.

    100 people in 30 organisations travelling around the world to talk in conferences about the necessity for 10 words to be included in a declaration costs as much money and energy as one would need to get some major development projects running to improve the water situation on the ground.

  • Iwona Frydryszak on 19th January 2011:

    so what do you think about EJC contests? It’s also about raising awarness and so much money are spend on the trips we can participate in. There is in general the question of the effectivness of the UN and world’s community. I agree that there are a lot of money spend in the inefficent way.

  • Ronny Patz on 19th January 2011:


    Good point on the waste of funds, and linking this to the EJC, although I think that there’s a difference between
    a) sending a group of 27 on a short-trip to Portugal in order to bring them together, foster new ways of reporting while highlighting a particular policy issue, and
    b) having the goal of getting a sentence in a declaration involving a years-long struggle in the quite expensive places of New York, Geneva, Nairobi (don’t know how expensive this is), although the matter of water is in principle recognised as an important issue, even by autocrats and dictaors, and is thus much more consensual than such human rights as freedom of speech and related rights.

    But I may be wrong.

  • Iwona Frydryszak on 19th January 2011:

    which dictators or autocrats do you particular mean?

  • Laszlo Keki on 20th January 2011:

    Hi Lara !

    Good to read your strong speedy thoughts here again.
    and as usual your sparkling thoughts lights fire again and you are very right: access to clean water would be a basic human right. The problem is it cost a lot… and uncle Sam does not want to spend money for Africa, Bolivia etc. (only if we force him together) better he spends to buy a new luxus yacht or builds another palm island in Dubai bay or anything else is more interesting especially expensive things which brings more money…no miracle rich people are selfish.

    Rgrds, Laci

  • Ronny Patz on 23rd January 2011:

    Hey, this here may interest you - the hearing is already tomorrow!

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 24th January 2011:

    Congrats Lara. Good to see you on board! Cheers!

  • Radka Lankasova on 25th January 2011:


    great post as always.

    I wonder whether local governments see clean water as human right for their nations though.

  • Sylwia Presley on 03rd February 2011:

    I really like Radka’s point - and it in a way proves the entire argument. As opposed to EJC and other media activities the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a core basis of all developments. We can post about it and drive the change, raise awareness etc…but if we have no law to refer too, I am afraid that in many cases our fight is lost.

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