Ten years ago, Maude Barlow, our Board Chair, was on the balcony of the United Nations General Assembly as it passed the historic resolution recognizing and affirming that access to water and sanitation are basic human rights. She recently reflected, “I remember feeling that in defining water and sanitation as an issue of justice rather than charity, the human family had just taken an evolutionary step forward.”
Through her decades of activism and research, Maude has arrived at a critical strategy for realizing that human right to water — starting at the local level to build a global family of Blue Communities.
Maude describes this strategy in her new book, Whose Water Is It, Anyway? Taking Water Protection Into Public Hands. The Blue Communities project found its origins in Canada’s fights against bottled water extraction and water privatization. More than a decade ago, Canadian labor union leaders and workers, environmentalists, and indigenous and community activists convened a Blue Summit to develop a new path forward in the face of inaction from their federal government.
The goal of the project is to have local governments commit to become a Blue Community by passing local resolutions to protect the human right to water.
What is a Blue Community?
A Blue Community must commit to:
- Recognize water and sanitation as human rights;
- Reject water privatization in all its forms; and
- Ban or phase out bottled water in government buildings and at municipal events.
In 2011, Burnaby in British Columbia, Canada, became the first Blue Community. Since then, 80 communities around the world have joined the effort — check out this map by the Council of Canadians:
Almost 25 million people now live in official Blue Communities that have pledged to promote water as a human right, protect water as a public trust and public service, and phase out bottled water in government buildings and events. These cities include Montreal, Vancouver, Paris, Berlin and Brussels.
In the United States, Northampton, Massachusetts, and Los Angeles, California, have become Blue Communities, but we have a lot more work to turn our country blue.
Why should U.S. towns become Blue Communities?
Water is a basic human right. It is intrinsic to living a life with dignity, and to life itself. We need water to drink, cook food, bathe, clean, wash our hands and flush our toilets. In the midst of a global pandemic, this basic essential need for water has never been clearer.
Water privatization can undermine this basic human right. At its core, turning water over to a for-profit company abdicates a basic government responsibility to protect and promote the human right to water. We lose control over an essential service, typically leading to higher rates and worse service.
Bottled water companies like Nestlē extract local water supplies to put in plastic bottles and ship around the world to generate profit. Bottled water costs thousands of times more than local tap water, and it generates billions of pounds of plastic. People and the environment lose.
That’s why right now is the time to take action to protect the human right to water.
How you can make your town a Blue Community
This fall, we are going to launch an online digital organizing guide for you to take action to turn your home town into a Blue Community. We will provide you with the tools you need to move your elected officials to recognize that our water is a common resource and a human right.
Stay tuned for more! For now, take action to tell your Congressmember to support a national water shutoff moratorium!