Canada should be denied a seat on the UN Security Council until it recognizes water as a human right, says Maude Barlow, a well-known Canadian activist who is a top adviser on water issues at the United Nations.

Barlow was appointed in October 2008 to be first senior adviser on water issues to the president of the UN General Assembly, Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann. She is attending the week-long World Water Forum in Istanbul, where thousands of participants, including government ministers from 120 countries, are discussing global water concerns.

"It would be wonderful to see Canada on the [council] helping to address the critical global challenges of our day," Barlow, who is also the chairwoman of the citizens' advocacy group Council of Canadians, said Tuesday in a statement.

"But if the Harper government fails to act on the global water crisis, then it simply does not deserve to take that seat."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made it a top foreign policy priority for Canada to secure a seat on the 15-member Security Council for the 2011-12 term. Canada is competing against Portugal and Germany, both of which have already endorsed the right to water, for one of the two available seats in the Western European and Others Group.

The election, in a vote by members of the General Assembly, will take place in October 2010.

Recognition seen as vital

Barlow said Canada and the United States were the only two countries that had gone on the record at the UN in blocking a resolution that would see access to water and sanitation recognized as a human right — although she said U.S. President Barack Obama might be poised to reverse the U.S. stance. The resolution was to be voted on within a week.

"Recognizing water as a human right is vital to ensuring that governments address the reality of more than a billion people who are currently without access to clean water," Barlow said.

"Unsafe water and sanitation are the source of 85 per cent of all disease and one in every six people on Earth has no access to clean drinking water."

The UN estimates that 2.8 billion people in 48 countries will be living under water stress or scarcity by 2025.

In addition to Africa, there are "a number of areas in the world that are extremely water short," including the Middle East, as well as Mediterranean countries such as Spain and Italy, Bob Sandford, chairman of the UN program Water For Life, told CBC in Calgary on Tuesday.

"We're also seeing potential conflicts between India and Pakistan and we're also beginning to see tensions between individual states in Australia as drought begins to dramatically impact water availability in parts of that country."


  • An earlier version of this story had a headline that may have led some readers to believe Canada would not get a seat on the UN Security Council unless it recognized water as a human right. To clarify, Maude Barlow, the senior adviser on water issues to the president of the UN General Assembly, had suggested Canada should be denied a seat on the UN Security Council until it recognized water as a human right. However, Barlow is not directly involved in the election of Security Council members. They are chosen in a vote by the members of the UN General Assembly.
    Mar 23, 2009 5:06 PM ET