Water We Doing!?

Locally and internationally, debates regarding best practices to save the world’s diminishing clean water supply swell between two main camps: those who support the human right to water and those who promote privatization. Realizing the complexity of the issue, this blog intends only to provide a very boiled-down overview of each position as well as resources on the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese’s work on the topic.

A Case for Privatization

Corporations and supporters of the neo-liberal model for development tend to believe that placing water sources and services in the hands of private corporations is the only way to protect and conserve what little water is left on our earth. Some try to rebrand the phrase “the human right to water” to include this model, while others, such as the current Chairman and former CEO of Nestlé, admittedly do not believe access to water is a fundamental human right. The argument is that public infrastructure is old and inefficient, which produces a great deal of waste. Furthermore, ownership by the commons means water is often overconsumed and irresponsibly regulated. Therefore, companies, seeing water as a commodity, would create infrastructure and technology that would more responsibly manage water services in order to maximize their profits. They would use pricing to manipulate consumption patterns in an effort to eliminate overconsumption.

A Case for the Human Right to Water

On the other side of the aisle, many civil society and religious leaders believe equitable access to water can only be realized through the “human right to water” model, which keeps water and sanitation services out of the private sector. Some of the key players in this camp include Ecumenical Patriarch BartholomewPope Francis, the Blue Planet Project of the Council of Canadians, and the NGO Mining Working Group. The argument is that every human has a right to water; therefore, it cannot be commoditized but must rather remain in the possession of the public. Of course this camp agrees that modernizing infrastructure and developing responsible consumption policies must be part of the equation, but the actual ownership, cleaning, and delivery of water sources and services must remain with the people (in other words under the care and responsibility of the democratically elected government). Thus, all people would have equal access to water, undeniable due to socio-economic status.[1]

The Archdiocese's Work

In the end it is quite simple: 70-80% of the human body is made of water. Our food, regardless of diet, requires water. Whoever controls water enslaves not only the market but also people. If private companies retain ownership of water, they retain the ability to deny a person the most basic necessity of life. It lends way for profiteers to further widen the economic gap of disparity through water pricing. It also allows them to enslave people by taking ownership, indirectly, of 70-80% of their bodies. Therefore, for freedom’s sake, ownership of water must remain with the commons. It must remain a basic human right. For these reasons – and many other nuances omitted from this short blog – the privatization of water and sanitation is one of the greatest threats to humanity.

In order to ensure people retain their right to water, the Archdiocese has engaged the issue primarily through international policy at the United Nations. The following is a list of resources including not only statements but also processes and policies the Archdiocese has influenced over the past decade:

United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

United Nations High Level Panel on Water

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s Statement on Water

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s Statement on Water at the Budapest Water Summit

NGO Mining Working Group’s Water Justice Guide

Defense of Land and Water: Economic Empowerment for Women

Defense of Land and Water as a Strategy to Eradicate Poverty

The Protection and Management of Transboundary Groundwater: Legal Issues and the Human Right to Water

The Foundations of SDG 6 - The Human Right to Water and Sanitation

Theology, Science, Advocacy, and Practice: The Human Right to Water and Sanitation

Women, Water, and Wellbeing: The Human Right to Water and Sanitation


[1] It is worth noting that, since water and sanitation have been internationally accepted as human rights by a 2010 UN Resolution, governments theoretically have a responsibility to provide access to water for all their citizens. This means that high-cost, private water would lead to higher taxes to subsidize water for those who are unable to pay.