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Another Victory for the Human Right to Water in Mexico

February 8, 2012

Mexico will soon join the list of countries that recognize the human right to water and sanitation in their constitutions. After years of work by UUSC partners in Mexico, a majority of state congresses in Mexico recently approved a constitutional amendment that will guarantee every person in Mexico the right to water and sanitation. When it becomes law, the amendment will state that every person in Mexico is entitled to affordable, accessible, and safe water in sufficient amounts. 

Currently, more than 13 million people in Mexico lack access to safe drinking water, which underscores the pressing need for this law. In addition, fires and record high temperatures in northern Mexico last year led to severe water and food shortages that particularly affected indigenous communities.

The proposed amendment has already cleared several key steps of the process. After being passed last year by the national senate, it was sent to the state congresses for approval. So far, 18 state congresses — two more than the minimum necessary for the government to enact it — have voted in favor of the amendment, an achievement worth celebrating.

Civil-society groups in Mexico, including the Habitat International Coalition (HIC-AL), a UUSC partner, are thrilled that they have overcome this hurdle. The Coalition of Mexican Organizations for the Right to Water (known as COMDA), of which HIC-AL is a member, is demanding that the national government publish the amendment immediately. COMDA is urging a truly participatory process to formulate a new human-right-to-water law within one year. The law will define the human right to water and sanitation and lay out how it will be implemented.

The approval of the amendment by local congresses follows HIC-AL’s victory last year, when a district court ruled that Mexico has obligations to uphold the human right to water. The historic ruling, which received tremendous national media attention in Mexico, was made in a case brought by HIC-AL on behalf of to residents of Ampliacion Tres de Mayo, a community of 100 families who were cut off a water network by the local municipality. Because of this case and others like it, the community now receives water from the municipality twice a week.

But water twice a week is by no means sufficient. In addition, the court ruling problematically linked the human right to water to ownership of property. The constitutional recognition of the human right to water and sanitation will provide additional support for HIC-AL as they move forward with pending cases, bolstering their arguments for adequate water and for an affirmation that the right is for everyone, whether they own property or not.

Increasingly, governments around the world are recognizing the right to water and sanitation in national laws and policies, an indication that access to safe drinking water and sanitation can no longer be seen as charity but as an individual entitlement. This means people can seek a remedy when that right is violated, and they can demand accountability from leadership when there is a failure to implement. The human-right-to-water amendment in Mexico’s constitution will make this possible for Mexicans. UUSC joins HIC-AL and civil-society groups in Mexico to celebrate this accomplishment and to demand that the government quickly make the amendment official.

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