Water a Fundamental Human Right
Nearly 2,000 people voted electronically on water issues at the Sustainable Development Dialogue Days inside Riocentro Conference Center this evening, and here are the top three recommendations that will be submitted to heads of state later this week:
1. Implement the right to water (53% of audience voted for this as a top-three topic).
2. Assert the importance of integrated water, energy and land-use planning and management at all scales (35%).
3. Global policies to address water and sanitation needs (30%)
These topics soundly trumped seven others that were debated by a high-profile panel of experts and the audience in the 2.5-hour session in the large Plenary Hall.
Stepping outside our world to absorb global perspectives on everyday environmental and health issues is the main reason we travel to conferences like these. Sure, tonight’s session covered age-old and progressive water issues we can relate to in the U.S. – drought and rainwater harvesting, for example — but it’s eye-opening to me once again to witness water issues on a global stage to be so fundamental as “the right to water” and “sanitation needs.” One audience member representing urban workers pled with the panelists to submit the top recommendations not just as “right to water” but “water and sanitation as a fundamental human right.” And here I am in Rio — a famous city of 6 million — thinking it’s a pain in the butt to buy bottled water every day to brush my teeth.
Rainwater Harvesting in India: Having the Political Will
Dr. Santha Sheela Nair, former Secretary of the Department of Fresh Water of India’s Ministry of Rural Development, told a success story of rainwater harvesting in Chennai, formerly Madras. Dr. Nair explained how the concept was implemented in the city of 5.5. million people and throughout the state in one year, and that within 10 years Chennai was much more water secure. She said the key to the success was city leadership having the political will to make change.
Keep in mind that rainwater harvesting was not one of the topics being considered for recommendation to heads of state. It simply came up during discussions as a tactic for water security. When we work on water conservation in Texas, for example, the state’s Water Conservation Advisory Council develops a set of “best management practices” with very specific goals and tactics. So, once again, when you consider how fundamental the topics are here for water on a global level, it’s quite humbling. It’s starting to sink in how the “social equity” part of sustainable development’s Three E’s trumps environment and economy on a macro level — that is, when you take the entire world’s population into consideration.
Above, one of the audience members asks a question of the panelists. Everything was translated into English and Portuguese.