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Prentice wrongly claims the right to water compels water exports

This past World Water Day weekend, Environment Minister Jim Prentice stated on CBC News that Canada does not support water as a human right because, “You get into difficult questions such as do countries that have access to water have a legal obligation to export it to countries that don’t. Clearly, it’s a complex issue.”

The Council of Canadians has been very clear that the recognition that water is a human right does not compel bulk water exports from Canada, something we have opposed for many years.

A letter on this matter from Maude Barlow, Council of Canadians chairperson, and Ashfaq Khalfan, Coordinator of the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions Right to Water Programme, clearly states, “Recognition of the right to water in no way affects a country’s sovereign right to manage its own water resources. The resolution tabled at the Human Rights Council (in March 2008) specifically stated that it focused on the local and national level, and emphasized the need to leave aside any transboundary water issues.”

The letter further argues that, “Canada has recognized the right to food and health since it ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1976. Yet Canada has not been forced to share its ample grain reserves with countries where there are food shortages on the basis of the right to food. Nor has it been required to provide health services to the 47 million uninsured Americans. In addition, the UN definition of right to water only includes water for basic household uses such as drinking, washing and personal sanitation, which takes up only 5% of total water use. Thus, farmers, the bottled water industry, investors and those who wish to water their lawns and wash their cars cannot claim water on the basis of human rights.”

You can read this letter at http://canadians.org/water/documents/Letter_Liberal_0408.pdf.

Additionally, a Canwest News Service article reported in March 2008 that, “Barlow denied that the resolution would require Canada to make bulk water exports to the U.S. ‘The requirement in the United States would be for them to conserve first,’ said Barlow. ‘There’s no requirement as a human right for us to provide water for swimming pools and golf courses and fountains in Las Vegas.’”

This news report is at http://www.canada.com/topics/news/world/story.html?id=b65b35fd-477f-4956-98f4-c17a46fe3e26.

Overall, when Maude has spoken about the right to water she has made clear, “A UN covenant on the right to water would serve as a common, coherent body of rules for all nations, rich and poor, and clarify that it is the responsibility of the state to provide sufficient, safe, accessible and affordable water to all of its citizens.”


The Council of Canadians issued a media release this World Water Day highlighting that more than 20 countries signed a counter-declaration at the World Water Forum in Turkey indicating their support for water to be recognized as a human right.. You can read this at http://canadians.org/media/water/2009/22-Mar-09.html.

Additionally, the African Union, with 53 member countries, signed this counter-declaration. You can read more about the African Union at http://www.africa-union.org/root/au/index/index.htm.

And on March 12, the European Parliament (the 785 member directly-elected legislature of the European Union, which represents 27 countries) voted to declare, “that water is a shared resource of mankind and that access to drinking water should constitute a fundamental and universal right…” This is at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P6-TA-2009-0137+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN&language=EN.

To read Maude’s ‘A UN Convention on the Right to Water – An Idea Whose Time Has Come’, please go to http://www.blueplanetproject.net/documents/UN_Convention_RTW_MBarlow_Nov06_000.pdf.

To read more about our right to water campaign, please see http://canadians.org/water/issues/right/index.html.