Maybe, maybe not. It seems it depends on how you look at it.
In the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”.
That’s how the United Nations phrased it in 1948 and the Declaration is still supposed to apply in most countries of the world. Some nations’ justice systems seem to ignore the first part of the statement, and nearly all pass over the second, but I will pass over that for now. Let’s take it that everyone has the right to life.
And since water is one of the essentials of life, let’s assume everyone has a right to water.
In the words of a prominent page on the website of the world’s largest food corporation: “Nestlé chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe believes water is a human right.”
Quite right too. But if it’s so fundamental why does Mr Brabeck-Letmathe feel the need to say it?
Could it be because he once appeared to be saying the opposite in a well-publicised interview?
The web page built by his PR team asks itself the question: “Why have some organisations started a petition against Nestlé?”
And gives the answer: “People are using a video interview Mr Brabeck gave in 2005 to say that he thinks all water sources should be privatised. This is simply not true.”
So let’s see what Mr Brabeck actually said in that interview, which is not hard to find online.
He said: “The one opinion, which I think is extreme, is represented by the NGOs, who bang on about declaring water a public right. That means as a human being you should have a right to water. That’s an extreme solution.”
He goes on: “The other view says that water is a foodstuff like any other and like any other foodstuff it should have a market value.
“Personally I believe it’s better to give foodstuff a value so we’re all aware that it has a price.”
And what is the price of water? Or, more pertinently, what is the price of being without it?
In case you’re still in any doubt where Nestlé stands on what really is a life-and-death issue, Mr Brabeck concludes: “I’m still of the opinion that the biggest social responsibility of any CEO is to maintain and ensure the successful and profitable future of his enterprise.”
And he’s not alone in that view, of course. It’s as clear and honest an expression as you could wish for of what global capitalism is all about.
In the words of an excellent post-apocalypic cartoon I saw recently: “Yes, the planet was destroyed. But for a glorious moment back there we made a lot of profit for our shareholders”.
Not that the planet itself is really in any danger. But human life may be if it insists on putting a cash price on everything.
United Nations Resolution 64/292, passed in 2010, made it specific. Everyone on the planet should have a water supply “sufficient and continuous for personal and domestic uses”.
These include “drinking, personal sanitation, washing of clothes, food preparation, personal and household hygiene”.
This is reckoned to add up to between 50 and 100 litres of water a day. Sounds reasonable.
So how much water do you reckon you use each day?
A recent US government survey found that people in Palm Springs, California, were using 3,000 litres a day.
And that’s without counting what goes into everything they eat, wear or drive.
Of course we’re not in California. People in East Anglia don’t guzzle like Americans.
But do you ever eat a burger? Once you take into account what the cattle drink, and how much is used to irrigate the crops that feed them, that can be as much as 17,000 litres of water. Per burger.
Agriculture accounts for 80 per cent of all fresh water use. Four litres for one almond. A head of broccoli, 20 litres.
Why on earth do we go to all the trouble of cleaning water that we’re only going to flush down the loo? It’s good enough to drink – until you put it down the lav. Your used bath or shower water would do the job just as well.
And as for bottled water – that’s possibly the clearest sign there is of the madness of the modern world. I’ll write about that in more detail another time.
But for now just take a look at the figures on the right, some of them published this week for World Water Day (as if we could do without the stuff for the other 364 days of the year). You may need a nice cool drink of water after taking some of them in.