The UN General Assembly on Wednesday recognized access to clean water and sanitation as a human right, a move hailed by water advocates as a momentous step toward a future treaty.
After more than 15 years of contentious debate on the issue, 122 countries voted in favor of a compromise Bolivian resolution enshrining the right, while the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and 37 other nations abstained.
The non-binding text "declares the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of the right to life."
It expresses deep concern that 884 million people lack access to safe drinking water and that more 2.6 billion do not have access to basic sanitation.
It notes that roughly two million people die every year from diseases caused by unsafe water and sanitation, most of them small children.
And it points to the pledge made by world leaders in 2000 as part of the poverty-reduction Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to reduce by half, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and sanitation.
The resolution urges states and international organizations to provide financial and technological assistance to help developing countries "scale up efforts to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable water and sanitation for all."
"This is a historic day for the world, a big step in the right direction" toward the distant goal of a water treaty, Canada's leading water activist Maude Barlow told AFP.
"It is going to mean a huge amount to our movement around the world, to local community groups fighting for water rights, water justice against governments, corporations which are not respecting their rights."
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