Friday, October 15, 2010

Water and Other Human Rights, October 15, 2010


This week we are joining the World Blogger Community in Blog Action Day 2010. Today thousands of bloggers from over 125 different countries are coming together to write about water issues in their communities and around the world. I am proud to join this effort and I hope I can help raise your consciousness to issues surrounding water. Access to clean water is a fundamental human right and the
lack of such access is lethal to millions of people around the globe.  The rant will be very long and might bore you, but when I become outraged about something, I also insist on speaking my piece.

Let us start with the basics and point out a case that screams for justice. A judge in Botswana recently made a judgment that took away the Bushmen's right to water. Take action against this inhumanity! I call upon you all to petition the UN Secretary General to right this wrong. It is always the weakest components of society such as the Bushmen who are most readily victimized. Please go to the petition   link to act for them.

Now let us look further at the situation in Africa: While the global picture is far from encouraging,that of Africa is much worse. On most indicators on the provision of water, sanitation and human settlements, progress remains slowest in the world's poorest region.More than a decade after the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the world is still scrambling to meet
its ambitious targets. An estimated 1.5 billion people remain without safe drinking water and about 2.5 billion have no access to adequate sanitation. Almost 1 billion people, most of them in developing countries, live in slums, a figure expected to double over the next 30 years.

That was the grim picture portrayed at the 12th session of the Commission on Sustainable Development
(CSD), held in New York from April 14-30. The commission was set up to monitor the implementation of the
Rio agreements, but delegates also reviewed progress in providing water, sanitation and human settlements, as spelled out at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.
Although the Johannesburg summit set a target of reducing by half the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and sanitation by 2015, more than 300 million Africans still lack access to safe drinking water and 14 countries on the continent suffer from water scarcity. Out of 55 countries
in the world with domestic water use below 50 liters per person per day (the minimum requirement set by
the World Health Organization), 35 are in Africa. Almost half of all Africans suffer from one of six
Photo : ©iAfrika Photos /
Eric Miller

main water-related diseases.

These are statistics, but what is behind them are life, death, education and hope for the future. Girls in particular are prevented from going to school because of the lack of clean and private toilet
facilities. Let us look at a case in Kenya where the installation of urinals for girls made a
difference. Mr Daniel Odhiambo is headmaster of the Atono School in Nyanza – one of only four schools in
Kenya with urinals for girls.
Girls' Urinal in Kenyan School

Netwas Kenya and IRC visited his school recently as part of a UNICEF Kenya
study of 43 schools in four districts: Coast (Mombasa); Nyanza (Rachuonyo & Kisumu); Rift Valley (Kajiado); and North Eastern (Garissa). The aim of the study was to find out if the national Kenyan Ministry of Health standard ratio of 1 latrine to 25 girls and 1 toilet to 30 boys can be downgraded if the pupils also have access to urinals, and if so, what would be the new ratio.
This was a follow-up of 2004-2005 research on the enhancement of sanitation and hygiene for Kenya’sschool children, carried out by IRC together with seven partner  organizations in Kenya. That study showed that school toilet standards were not 
being met. What is needed is political will and caring.

Sanitation and hygiene facilities at the school include:

    * Two VIP toilets and a bathroom for teachers.
    * Three toilets and a urinal for girls, and three toilets and a urinal for boys.
    * Three handwashing vessels, one for each group, with soap.
    * Three drinking vessels, one for each group.
    * Soap for washing/cleaning the facilities

It makes a difference.

The UN Human Rights Commission adopted on 1 October this year a ground breaking resolution affirming
that access to clean water is a fundamental human right and that governments can be held accountable for
its implementation and protection. For details and comment by Amnesty International goto this link.

I suggest that you all go to google with the query "access to clean water" and you will be shocked at what you will find. Over 5,000 children die every DAY from drinking impure water. 90% of the 42,000 deaths that occur every week from unsafe water and unhygienic living conditions are to children under five years old. The Nazi killing machine of WWII did not reach such a rate. Many of these diseases are preventable. The UN predicts that one tenth of the global disease burden can be prevented simply by improving water supply and sanitation. The lack of water is coupled with the lack of sanitation facilities. India is an emerging economic super power, but its lack of proper toilet facilities is disgraceful and causes damage  to society and the economy. 
This is not just liberal bleeding heart rhetoric. Illness, lost productivity and other consequences of fouled water and inadequate sewage treatment trimmed 1.4-7.2 percent from the gross domestic product of Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam in 2005, according to a study last year by the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program. As usual, it comes down to money.
Here in Israel we regard ourselves as a modern industrialized country. We were profligate in our use of water resources for decades and now we are paying the price. The government is pleading with us to conserve water until desalinization facilities can be activated in a few years. We are progressing to increase our water supply by desalinization.
Of course in Israel it also
depends on who you are and where you live. The level of sanitation in Israel proper and the West Bank settlements is much  higher than in the  Occupied Territories and Gaza.


The Nobel Peace Prize for 2010 was awarded to Liu Xiaobo, a dissident serving an 11-year sentence for peaceful advocacy of democratic reform,  The reaction of the Chinese government: crackdowns on dissidents, house arrest of the wife of the Laureate and attempts to keep the news from the Chinese public.  As the Washington Post writes, this type of reaction is typical of regimes that fear democracy and their own people.  They also bluster towards the outside world.  I will get back to that when I discuss Israel below.  I think we should all write to our governments and ask that they  pressure China to release Liu Xiaobo immediately and unconditionally.

In a true display of courage, senior Chinese elders, former officials, have called for increased freedom in China.  Again, true to form, the censors are cutting off the call on Twitter and other sources of information.  I salute the elders, but it reminds me a bit of the Road to Damascus that we see among retired Israeli generals.  These people made careers out of the repressive regime and now, at long last, their conscience wakes up.

Here are a few links from the Labour Start Web site, one concerning Thai migrant workers and their right to workers' compensation and the other about a trade union activist and university  professor in Colombia.
The link goes by default to my name etc., but you can erase the details and put in your own.  Please act.

I have ranted here often about the death penalty as an extreme form of torture and human rights violation.  We had a public meeting on the subject in Israel   on October 10, World Day Against the Death Penalty..  Here the courts do not kill people, but the army carries out wholesale extrajudicial executions. It seems that the world is turning against  judicial killings as reported by Amnesty International.

Finally a reminder of the plight of Aung San Suu Kye as she  tries again in court Burma.
We must never forget her.


Things have been wild as usual in our little neck of the woods.  We see the attacks on democracy going on and becoming stronger.  It is clear that the right wing is determined to create an Israel that I and my fellow liberals do not want to live in.  The West Bank settlements are a mere excuse for an agenda that involves a dark coalition of religious fanatics and nationalist lunatics, whose positions have become mainstream.  It is very much like what Paxton described in his book The Anatomy of Fascism as taking place in Italy and Germany between the two World Wars.  Tomorrow there will be a demonstration against fascism in Tel Aviv and I expect that the usual suspects will turn out in force.  The question is whether the general public that is either indifferent or in some way supportive of the right wing agenda will show up as well.  Many journalists of the liberal camp have spoken out against what is happening, the legislative initiatives,such as loyalty oaths, designed to degrade and marginalize the non-Jewish population of the State, the preposterous demand that the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, trumped up criminal charges against leaders of the Arab community and a general attack on all dissent.  What is clear is that democracy, peace with the  Arab world and human rights are antithetical to the world view of the political leaders of Israel.  Paxton points out that a fascist regime requires war and conquest in order to survive.  In Haaretz today, Zeev Sternhell  gives a scholarly analysis that goes much deeper into the main issues than all the well-meaning rants of the journalists.  I suggest the all read it.

One of the most disturbing things is the talk of forced movement of populations.  The army is actually practicing it along with the establishment and operation of concentration camps.  I assume I will be in one some day.  It is frightening to contemplate.The source is not the blog referenced, but a Hebrew report on the Israel Broadcast Web site.

One sign of the rise of fascism and the adoption of the political culture of Putin can be seen in the actions of our Foreign Minister, Lieberman.  He is using the job  to fortify his  position as leader of the right and a future PM.  He cares nothing for democracy, in fact he does not understand it.  When a tabloid newspaper in Sweden wrote a stupid article accusing the Israeli Army of trafficking in organs of killed Palestinians, he immediately protested to the Swedish government.  He could have waited for the mainstream journalist community in Sweden to deal with the matter, but he could not understand that the Swedish government does not control the press.  He also blustered towards Norway when they marked the 150th birthday of their greatest writer.  True, the man did collaborate with the Nazis when he was very old and demented, but it was certainly not for us to berate the Norwegians.  Note that China is now threatening Norway with dire consequences (they will not cell them jeans?) because of the Nobel Prize awarded to Liu Xiaobo.  Fascists are all the same, even when they call themselves Communists or Zionists.

Let us sign off in a lighter vein.  I owe you two doses of Below the Beltway.  In one, our hero tries his hand at doggerel poetry  and in the next he goes into a bit of philosophy about mortality in a cemetery used as a canine latrine with all due respect .|

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