Human Rights Day: new EPSU report marks ten years of Right2Water


(8 December 2023) As the world observes Human Rights Day on December 10th, EPSU launched a new report commemorating the ten-year milestone of the Right2Water European Citizens Initiative (ECI), a groundbreaking movement that placed access to water at the forefront of the European political agenda.

"Water is life! Without it, we cannot survive. That is why access to water needs to be treated as a human right." In a global context where water scarcity is on the rise, the report emphasises the interconnectedness of the right to water with broader human rights principles. On this Human Rights Day, EPSU calls attention to the critical role that water plays in sustaining life and highlights the urgent need for collective action to safeguard this fundamental right.

The Right2Water ECI, launched in 2012, was a catalyst for significant shifts in the European water landscape. At a time when water privatisation loomed large, EPSU, along with a coalition of social movements and trade unions, successfully campaigned for water to be recognised as a public good, not a commodity for profit. The initiative collected nearly 2 million signatures, sending a powerful message for universal access to water and sanitation and leading to legislation such as the Drinking Water Directive (2020).

Despite the achievements, challenges persist. The report reveals that 48 million people in Europe lack access to piped water at home, while 31 million lack access to basic sanitation. Globally, 2.2 billion people face a similar plight. The concurrent COP28 discussions on climate change further underscore the need to address water scarcity and emphasise the report's call for urgent attention to trade unions and social movements.

The conclusion of the report draws attention to ten critical lessons learned over the past decade:

  1. Universal access requires proper public financing.
  2. Sewage pollution demands environmental protection through public financing.
  3. Successful resistance against privatisation is essential for water justice.
  4. Remunicipalisation faces challenges when private companies embed in communities.
  5. Reversing water privatisation is possible, even in seemingly entrenched situations.
  6. Public utilities must avoid behaving like profit-oriented private companies abroad.
  7. Neo-colonial dynamics facilitate water privatisation in the Global South.
  8. Water grabbing intensifies with increasing scarcity, necessitating vigilant oversight.
  9. Bottled water exacerbates water marketisation and environmental degradation.
  10. The UN Global Conference on Water risks becoming a platform for further marketisation.

As world leaders convene at COP28 to address climate change's impact on water resources, EPSU urges action to protect water from financial markets and corporate interests. The report draws attention to the dangerous commodification of water, exemplified by its entry into commodity markets, and emphasises the need for an approach that prioritises equitable access over profit.

Read the report in English here and in French here.