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Now its water cutoffs in the sky!

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mikemullerBy Mike Muller

There was jubilation amongst a small group of enthusiasts when the United Nations (UN) announced that water was a human right. 

The reason it was a small party was that few people believe that this decision will make a jot of difference to their lives or anyone else’s.

There are many questions about what the UN actually decided. Was it in fact a decision or a recommendation? Or did the delegates just think it would be a good idea? No one was sure, and what were people getting a right to, the right not to die of dehydration and the right to grow enough food to avoid starvation? Or enough water to make a decent living?

One group that will benefit are those who organise water conferences since we will have to meet many times before we can even agree what to talk about. And, since it is that time of year when the world’s water people get together to discuss their problems, I recently found myself on a plane to Stockholm, thinking about the right to water.

We should focus on
I was not intending to talk about the issue – South Africa has shown that it is more useful to focus on practical things like keeping municipalities working and stopping mines from polluting the rivers.  But the right to water became an immediate, practical problem because Scandinavian SAS is one of those modern airlines that charges for everything except the seat you sit on, that includes water.

In my befuddled state after an overnight flight to Europe, I had forgotten that SAS charges five Euros (R50) for a small bottle of water. Normally, if I travel with SAS, I carry an empty plastic bottle in my hand luggage since you are still not allowed to take liquids into international airports. Once inside the airport, I fill it up at the nearest tap - carry a litre of water and you save enough to buy four beers, even at exorbitant Swedish prices.

If you forget these precautions, the fallback is to drink from the taps in the airplane toilets. Ignore the sign that says “not for drinking”. That’s there because airlines are scared of mikemuller2lawyers. Since their water tanks are filled up in different airports, the airlines can’t guarantee its safety and are afraid that you will hold them responsible for your tummy bug. But, in northern Europe at least, you are fairly safe.

However, last month SAS achieved a new low. They cut off the water in the toilets! Not only could you not drink the water but you couldn’t wash your hands either. That’s when I remembered that the main goal of water as a human right is to improve health and that, aside from preventing death through dehydration, water for hand washing is the most important way to achieve that goal.

So those human rights activists are missing a trick. They need to campaign against airlines who hold dehydrated passengers to ransom. Besides, the next step will be to charge for air. Life would be much easier for cabin crews if they could keep passengers in a low-oxygen coma during flight. So join the fight against water cutoffs in the sky, while you still have enough oxygen to do so!

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