A rare and poorly distributed resource

By Ferran Requejo (for Safe Democracy)

Ferran Requejo exposes the serious problem that the lack of water at the global level presents for development, growth, distribution and the environment, and that affects the dignity and human rights of more than 2 billion people. Requejo believes that there are four factors that make difficult the reduction of the number of people affected by consuming unsafe water: the lack of fresh water on the planet, the increasing population, the relation between development and contamination, and the increase in demand.

Ferran Requejo is a professor of Political Science in Pompeu Fabra University (Barcelona), where he has directed the graduate program in Political Science and Sociology and the Group of Research in Political Theory (GRTP). His main fields of research are theories of democracy, political liberalism and the social democracy of post-World War II, and federalism in multinational context. His recently emphasized publication include: Multinational Federalism and Value Pluralism (Routledge, 2005) and Democracy, Nationalism and Multiculturalism (Routledge, 2005, edited by R. Maiz). He received the European Rudolf Wildenmann Prize for research.

GASOLINE IS A PROBLEM for rich countries. Water is still a problem for many poor countries. The resolution of both problems depends on good future policy on a global scale. They are two resources that affect security, stability, and the processes of development and democratization of a large number of countries in the world. Let us consider water.

It is a resource that starts to be scarce on a global scale. Some 1.1 billion people don’t have access to drinkable water; some 2.4 billion (40 percent of the world population) don’t have sanitation. Those are two frightening facts for what they suggest in the scope of health or for its relation with endemic poverty in the most underdeveloped countries.

Traditionally associated with life, water is actually also associated with death. Sometimes there is water, but it is contaminated. Its impact on the death rate in the three poorest countries in Asia –China, India and Indonesia– is greater than the impact of AIDS. It is calculated that some 6000 children die each day from diseases associated with access to water in undrinkable conditions (diarrhea, cholera). The images of the water poverty combine those from parched rural areas, for example, from central and southern Africa, with those of the suburbs of large cities, like Mexico City or Calcutta.

In the conference of Johannesburg attention was paid to the objective that in 2015 the actual figures would be cut in half. There are measures to be praised, such as the creation of betterment of sanitation systems, the augmentation of agricultural irrigation, the education of the practices of basic hygiene, etc. But this requires money, calculated in the same conference at around $50 billion annually. And there are, as well, four factors that act against the reduction of those numbers: the lack of fresh water on the planet, the increasing population, the close relationship between development and contamination, and the increase of demand (calculated by the EU at around 2 percent per year).

For the rich states, the world’s lack of water is not a priority matter. When we quantified inter-territorial aid we verified that the collectivity of solidarity continued to be defined, almost in its entirety, inside the state borders. In that way, to think globally and act locally fits generally into the category of to think. A situation that makes water policy still more fragmented, precise and small, although we know, for example, that only in the agricultural use of water at the global level is there a margin better than 40 percent.

Ignorance today is no longer an excuse. It is more important to find solutions than to look for someone to blame. This is a theme that justifies a far more decisive action on the part of the United Nations along the lines of the global proto-government sector. To talk about water and the world population is to talk about something that no longer only has to do with development, growth, distribution or the environment. It is about something that affects the dignity and the human rights of more than 2 billion people.

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