Kukk addresses global water issues at U.N.

Everyone needs water to survive. In fact, a human being cannot survive a week without it. But does that qualify water as a human right?

Dr. Chris Kukk thinks so. On March 22, 2012, the WCSU political science professor spoke at the United Nations in New York City about his belief that everyone has the right to water as a means of survival. Kukk, a consultant with the U.S. State Department on water issues, was accompanied to the U.N. by 17 WCSU students.

Kukk participated in a panel discussion on water and human rights, discussing in-depth how countries in water-scarce regions can avoid conflict and establish cooperation over water resources. He also focused on the possibility of water wars erupting in this century. Other panelists included Carlos Lozano Acosta, an associate researcher on biodiversity and genetic resources in Bogota, Colombia; and Farooq Ullah, a specialist adviser to the U.K. Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee.

Prior to his talk at the U.N. Church Center across from the U.N. building, Kukk gave a talk at WCSU on March 15, “Is There a Human Right to Water?” in which he dispelled some myths as well as raised problems and proposed solutions to the worldwide issues surrounding the accessibility of water.

While less than 1 percent of the planet’s fresh water is used as drinking water, there is a lot of controversy over that 1 percent. Sadly, Kukk reported, 1.5 million children under the age of 5 die each year from illnesses contracted by use of unsanitary water; fresh water animals are disappearing at five times the rate of their counterparts on land; and laws and regulations on water issues throughout the world have, in many cases, become a hindrance to water supply for basic needs.

“In the United States, officially, water is an economic good, not a human right,” Kukk said. “I believe it’s a human right.”

Although South Africa has recently declared water a human right, Kukk said that in the developed world, water has economic value and therefore is not accessible to everyone regardless of necessity. Putting together the grim statistics of illness, ecological devastation and international water disputes that have exceeded 500 worldwide in the past 50 years — 37 of them violent — Kukk said it’s time to take action toward sustaining efficient and effective means of clean water accessibility for everyone.
“The right to water is the right to life,” he said.

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Digging Deeper

Dr. Chris Kukk is shown on the streets of Tartu, Estonia, where he taught university classes in diplomacy and international politics during his yearlong Fulbright Fellowship in 2007-08.