July 9 will be Day Zero for the people in Cape Town, South Africa. That day, the available drinking water will be depleted. The city will be the first in the world without water. Unprecedented measures have already been taken. Each citizen can only use 50 liters of water per day. This is the minimum amount of water necessary to meet the essential needs of human beings such as drinking, sanitation, bathing, and food preparation. Only 4 percent of all drinkable water is used for domestic purposes; most is used for agriculture and industry. Many people around the globe do not have sufficient water. Some 3 in 10 people worldwide (2.1 billion in total) lack access to safe, readily available water at home, recent studies of the World Health Organization show. Water is also unequally used and distributed. In the United States each citizen uses 700 liters a day for domestic purposes. In Senegal the average use is 20 liters per person.
Water will be increasingly scarce in the near future. The main challenge will be how to distribute it equally. Water is not mentioned in the early human rights documents, contrary to food, clothing, housing, and medical care. The general assumption was that water is a necessary precondition to health. Actually, it is a precondition for human life. The right to life that is receiving so much attention in bioethical debates, cannot be realized without water. In 2010, the UN General Assembly has recognized the human right to water and sanitation, as essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights. This recognition is important for two reasons. One is that it underlines that water is a common resource that should be available to everybody. It is not an economic commodity that can be traded on the market and that depends on willingness to pay. The second reason is that it has inaugurated the new field of water ethics. It is now argued that issues of justice should be integrated in the local, regional and global governance of water. This is also a challenge for the discipline of bioethics. Water is a basic human need. Health is impossible without water. Focusing on ethical issues at the beginning and end of human life is important but even more vital is the affirmation that water is the precondition of life.