Two weeks ago I wrote an article on the 17th Conference on Climate Change hosted in Durban, South Africa, and I pointed out some negative trends that undermine the effectiveness of international agreements. The Conference is now over and a series of new commitments for the years to come has been presented as a result of the long-standing debate that lasted almost two weeks. Looking at the many articles that have been published on the outcomes of the Conference in the past few days, I noticed that one of the most frequent words was ‘equity’. Equity when deciding the emission reduction targets of the future. Equity of access to sustainable development.

The meaning of ‘equity’ reminds me of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on January the 10th, 1948. In fact, following the many massacres and atrocities of World War II, 30 articles were written to define human rights standards in terms of equality, freedom of thought, and dignity of every man, woman or child born on earth. The main aim was to avoid a similar genocide in the future. Unfortunately, we all know that this goal hasn’t been reached yet. At the same time, sixty years after the UDHR, the effects of global warming as a result of human activities have lead to an additional article: the Right to Water.

'Everyone has the right to clean and accessible water, adequate for the health and well-being of the individual and family, and no one shall be deprived of such access or quality of water due to individual economic circumstance' (Article 31)

Water is essential to all forms of life. People can survive without food for weeks, but anyone can live without water for just one day. We need to drink fresh and clean water to hydrate our body adequately, and therefore avoid health problems. We use water for the production of food, for industry and transport. Its role is paramount and goes far beyond any financial reason. However, today almost 1/8th of the world population don’t have access to fresh and clean water which corresponds to almost 884,000,000 people, the size of North and South America. In terms of life, this problem has huge consequences. In fact, cholera and water diseases are killing more children today than AIDS or even war themselves. The increase in the world population is making water shortage a major issue in the international debate. In fact, the Qatar National Food Security Programme (QNFSP) has launched an international alliance of dry nations by September 2012. The main aim is to develop solution for water-scarce countries.

Unfortunately, when we talk about water scarcity we have to distinguish between two different aspects of the same problem. On the one hand the effects of climate change are increasing the amount of dry areas on our planet, on the other hand the control of water resources is led by economic reasons leaving the poorest out of its distribution. The key problem is a correct management able to balance between private and public interests, between use and waste of this precious resource. In western countries we still lack a deep understanding of water emergency. Being able to afford water expenses, every time we turn on the tap we don’t consider the consequences of our uncontrolled consumption of water, and we keep on treating it as an unlimited resource. However, the current management is unsustainable and we should acknowledge that water shortage is no longer ‘their issue’, but it’s becoming ‘our issue’. According to Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, we are running into a ‘renewable peak limits’ which means that if we increase the amount of water we are taking out of rivers, our basic resource won’t be renewable anymore. In this context, we can see how human rights and emergency issues are mixed together in a looming risk at a global level. Do we still have time to discuss on it? This is neither a democratic issue, nor a political issue: it’s a people issue.