Water: a basic right

Clean water is a basic human right, and yet over a billion people in the world are living without it.

Oxfam and local partners provide safe water for communities in East Timor.
Photo: Patrick Horton

In the absence of safe water and sanitation, people find it impossible to escape the downward spiral of poverty and disease.

A lack of water and sanitation strongly impacts on the fulfilment of other human rights, such health, work and an education.

  •  Water is key to health and quality of life
  •  Water is key to escaping poverty
  •  Water is key to sustainable development
  • The right to water is essential for equality

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has established water as a human right, which Oxfam strongly supports.
In itself, this will not bring about universal access to safe, clean water, but it puts an obligation on governments all over the world to make sure people have sufficient, affordable, accessible and sustainable safe water and sanitation services.

Oxfam supports governments and local communities with training and infrastructure, ensuring that the local people can operate and maintain their own water services. In this way,  everyone’s right to a reliable and lasting supply of clean water can be achieved.  

Life without safe water

Without a safe source nearby, women and children in particular spend a great deal of time collecting water. For women this means less time spent working and caring for their children; for children it means less time for schooling.

Without basic sanitation, many women are forced to wait until darkness falls in order to relieve themselves with at least some privacy, putting themselves in considerable danger.

Many families living in poverty spend a significantly greater proportion of their income on water than do those in developed countries. Prices paid to water vendors in developing countries are often ten times more than the tap price.

When water and sanitation are provided to communities they can begin to spend their insufficient incomes on food, healthcare and education.