Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles This episode will show you how simply getting hold of water is often deeply unfair... ...and how campaigners are using the law to fight this. We look at the relationships between race, gender and water... and how the law can help overcome everyday discrimination. Why fetching water usually falls to women, and how that furthers inequality... And the US state that had to pay $600 million after a town's water supply was poisoned... Everyone needs water, but is the way we get it causing problems unfairly? In Sub-Saharan Africa, many houses don't have a water supply. The organisation UNICEF says in 71% of those houses, women or girls are mainly responsible for getting water. That means long walks, carrying heavy loads. UNICEF estimates that women in Sub-Saharan Africa spend 16 million hours collecting water each day. And this has implications for women's safety and health, a pattern repeated around the world. Often they're vulnerable to attack. And the weight they have to carry can be very damaging for their bodies. As well as having to fetch water for their families, when children or relatives get sick from consuming poor-quality water, it's the women who normally have to care for them. And all of this takes time away from opportunities for education, leisure, or even sleep. Amanda Loeffen from the campaign group Human Right to Water explains which laws deal with this problem. There is an international treaty that protects women specifically. It's from the Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women – CEDAW – and it determines that impairing the enjoyment, by women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms is a form of discrimination. An international treaty and work by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, known as CEDAW, protects the rights of women. How can anti-discrimination laws be used? There's the formal route, which is when international organisations can exert pressure on states through official complaints systems, and in that you have that the different UN treaty committees and advocacy forums like the Human Rights Council. But then, on a more informal basis, they can work to empower people with education, capacity building, and helping people to be aware of their rights and how to claim them. International organisations can either put pressure on states directly, by complaining to governments, or help people through education, so they understand their rights. What does this education actually look like? At the community level, we can focus on empowering local people, helping them to be aware of their rights, how to promote human rights in their own communities and how to claim them in a court of law if necessary. And much of the real change is happening at the very local level, as communities take water service provision into their own hands and find local solutions. This education means making things happen at a small scale: making people understand they have a legal right to water, and how they can actually go to court to get the water they need. So, does the law need to change to help vulnerable people get water? To reach these people, the majority of the 2.2 billion that are without safe water, there needs to be a constructive effort to target vulnerable groups as a priority and give them more attention. Otherwise they'll continue to be left out of the equation. Amanda says more work needs to be done to target the vulnerable people who don't have access to water, so they aren't forgotten by the law. Laws are there to help stop women being discriminated against, when it comes to water. And water problems don't just happen in poorer countries. Let's look at the American town of Flint, in Michigan. Flint is a majority African-American city, where over 40% of the residents live in poverty. And at least twelve people died there after the water supply was poisoned with lead. In 2014, to save money, the town switched its water supply and began taking it from the Flint River. Tap water sometimes came out blue or yellow, and many residents lost hair or developed rashes. The water from the river was not treated properly and reacted with the city's pipes. That reaction put lead, a powerful poison, into the water supply. Local officials and leaders denied anything was wrong for over a year. Thousands of residents filed lawsuits against the state of Michigan. The state agreed to pay a settlement of $600 million to the victims, mainly children, who were exposed to the toxic water. The city has since switched back to using Detroit's water system. Water campaigner Meera Karunananthan explained why some see what happened in Flint as discrimination. You see this level of criminal negligence and state abandon in the United States only in cities like Flint, which are predominantly poor and predominantly black – that you wouldn't see this in wealthier, white neighbourhoods. And the residents of Flint, who are now taking the state of Michigan and the city of Flint to court, are fighting for the human right to water. Campaigners say that this kind of thing only happens in cities where mostly black people live and it wouldn't happen in mostly white cities in America. Meera explained the importance of an agreement, or resolution, signed in 2015 at the United Nations. First time we had global consensus that water and sanitation were indeed human rights – or access to water and sanitation were human rights. Since then, there's also been the Sustainable Development Goals, launched in 2015, that affirmed that all governments must provide universal access to water and sanitation by 2030. Although it was officially recognised as a right in 2010, access to water was more widely agreed as a human right at the UN in 2015. The Sustainable Development Goals say that all governments must provide access by 2030. But do countries listen to international laws about this? There's been a huge push to have national governments codify, or recognise, the human right to water and sanitation in national law. That's always very important because that's, you know, the most powerful outcome in terms of ensuring that local courts, that national courts recognise the human right to water and sanitation. The international law does carry weight; it depends on the country and depends on the court. Getting national courts to follow international law is the most important step. And there's been a big effort to make this happen. How are people actually getting help with this issue? There are multiple strategies that are being pursued – many... often simultaneously, so you can go to court and you can, at the same time, file a complaint with the Special Rapporteur. You can also push for local policies: you can push for cities to recognise the human right to water and sanitation. This is something we are pushing for in... increasingly through a project that we call the Blue Communities Project: we're calling for cities around the world to recognise the human right to water and sanitation. People try many different things: they go to court, they complain to the United Nations Special Rapporteur and they campaign locally in their cities. Meera argues that the fact cases like Flint only happen in largely black towns shows water access is linked to racism. But she also talked about important bits of law that can help. This includes the UN resolution from 2015. And we've also seen that the first step in overcoming discrimination is the law, which makes it clear that everyone should have the water they need.