The Newest Human Right: Water

The Newest Human Right: Water

Access to water and sanitation brings instant improvements into people’s lives, no matter where they live. On Human Rights Day, Imogen Champagne explains why the newest human right is the key to unlocking  all Human Rights in Cambodia. 

This is a state of the art water treatment system at Sunrise New Hope. The team there headed by Ron Carter busted their guts to have this installed earlier in the year.

a water filtration system at Sunrise New Hope It was going to be a game changer. Families from the surrounding community could come to the school with containers and buckets and fill up on clean, safe water to drink and wash with. There was just one problem: no one would touch it.

Water from the tap in Cambodia is toxic. So when Ron told the community that this water was safe to drink, no one believed him. He had to gather people around, group by group, fill up a glass and drink it right in front of them to prove that it was Ok.

The notion that no water is safe water unless it comes in a sealed bottle seems crazy to us in Australia. In Cambodia, it saves lives. The kids and families of Sunrise New Hope now have clean water to drink. They can wash their hands, their bowls and their kids in treated, safe water. But they’re the lucky ones.

hygiene education at Sunrise New Hope
Hygiene education is part of school life at Sunrise New Hope

In  2010, the United Nations General Assembly introduced a new Human Right – the right to water and sanitation. It’s still young, but it packs a lot of punch, particularly in Cambodia.

Almost half of all Cambodians do not have clean water to drink with, cook with and wash with. Millions more don’t have access to a toilet in their home or their work. Open defecation is common. Human waste run off enters crops and water sources and makes people sick. Every single day. If you haven’t seen our Christmas campaign aimed at tackling this just yet, take a look here.

The 2010 resolution (64/292) recognises;

“The right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.”

What does this mean? In simple terms, it means that water and sanitation are essential. Without them, it is impossible to enjoy the freedoms and comforts of all other human rights.

That’s powerful stuff.

Water and sanitation impact EVERYTHING.

Working in Cambodia, we see the impacts of water and sanitation every single day.

When there is  clean water and sanitation in communities, everything changes. When there’s not, the effects are heartbreaking. They strip away core Human Rights and take the people of Cambodia back to square one.

The Right to an Education

When kids have clean water in their community, they turn up at school. Why? Because they stop getting sick. It’s hard to keep up in school if you constantly have a tummy bug from drinking dirty water at home. Every year, kids around the world miss 272 million school days because of diarrhoea. If you bring in all waterborne disease, this number almost doubles. Diarrhoea is so easily avoided with just a few simple steps. It’s heartbreaking.

dirty water makes kids sick

The impact of lacklustre sanitation for girls at schools is even more devastating. When school girls hit adolescence their classroom numbers drop like flies. It’s not hard to figure out why. Can you imagine getting your period as a young woman and being at a school where there is no running water?  Where there are no girls toilets to give you some privacy for dealing with it? Menstruation is still stigmatised in Cambodia.  The shame girls feel at being caught out at school with their period is enough for girls to give up on their education entirely.

The Right to Health

Access to basic sanitation and clean water saves lives. It doesn’t get cleaner than that. Simple things like a bucket of water and soap to wash your hands changes lives. It stops people picking up and passing on all kinds of germs that could make them sick.

the human right to water and sanitation
Photo by Darrel from the Cambodia water + toilet project

When Darrel from Cambodia Clean Water and Toilet Project installed a toilet into a home earlier this year, it was a game changer for the whole family.

They had one little tot already and another on the way. With a wash basin, running water and soap right there next to the house, hand washing became a new priority. It was always at the forefront of the family’s mind. Since then, no one’s been sick. They’ve all been healthy and happy and able to go out and grab any opportunity that comes their way.

Women’s human rights and safety

Health issues in developing countries hit women harder than anyone else. Without clean water or sanitation, women stay home from work for the same reason that girls stop going to school. Their days are consumed with collecting water from kilometers away or caring for sick kids. They are not working, not earning money and not able to be strong, fearless role models for their daughters.

According to Tim Costello from World Vision, helping women is the easiest way to lift a country out of poverty. For every dollar a women earns in the developing world, 90 cents flows to the family. For every dollar a man earns, 40 cents flows to the family. When women are out of work, the whole country suffers.

But it gets worse than this. Without a loo in their home, women are not safe. Without a tap nearby, women are in danger. Without access to sanitation, women are at risk.

Nighttime assaults are a very real danger for women without a loo. Going out, alone at night in search of a safe place to do their business leaves women vulnerable to assault. When women are forced to walk kilometers for water every day, they are at risk of assault, traffic injury, or simple dehydration. When women don’t have access to sanitation, they are vulnerable to illness. This is especially true during pregnancy when it’s just them at risk, but also their unborn child.

Today, it’s Human Rights Day. We need you to give your all for the newest human right – the right to water and sanitation. Help us provide a loo, a water pump, or sanitation education and change the lives of some of the poorest people in Cambodia. Make a donation now.


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