11 May 2010

Some straight talk on human rights and water

Ching Leong has got some good stuff to say. In this piece [pdf], she tells the tale of two cities:
In Singapore, water is priced from the first drop. There is no free water.

In Mexico City, the people have no idea how much water costs. There are few meters in the city – most pay a flat rate, if they pay at all. Only about one-fifth of the residents in Mexico City actually pay their bills.

Singapore loses only about 4 per cent of its water supply – one of the lowest volume of unaccounted for water in the world. Mexico loses about 30 per cent, and some cities in the developed world lose as much as 15 per cent.
In this one [pdf], she gets at the "red herring" of human rights:
In Singapore, water is not declared as human right. Everyone who uses water is charged from the first drop. While the water is not free, the Government has targeted subsidies under a scheme called RUAS (Rent and Utilities Assistance Scheme) where the poor receive subsidies for their utilities. Even for the very poor, the water connection is 24/7, and at the service level the same as that experienced by all other Singaporeans.

In other words, despite the lack of the declaration in Singapore that water is a human right, there is universal access to water in Singapore. So we see such a declaration is not a necessary condition for universal access. But another way to view the question is - is the declaration of water as a human right a sufficient condition for universal access? Let us now consider South Africa...


On the demand side, designating “water as a human right” creates a sense of entitlement. When they are told they have a right to something, people will not want to pay for it. On the supply side, designating “water as a human right” does nothing. It is not sufficient to ensure its place in policy-making. It does not ensure universal access, and offers little advice to policy makers who are simultaneously battling other equally urgent problems.

Bottom Line: You can have a free water supply or a sustainable water supply, but not both.