Hungarian mayor’s actions mean we must protect access to water as a human right

flowing water

Last Friday (August 2nd), as Hungary was in the grip of a near-40 degree heatwave, the mayor of the Hungarian town of Ózd issued an order to reduce or cease water pressure to more than eighty roadside pumps. Mayor Pál Fürjes claimed it was too expensive to continue to supply water to the pumps.

His decision affected several hundred families and, in particular, a number of poor neighbourhoods with a large population of Roma people. Hundreds of people were forced to queue in extremely hot conditions to collect water from pumps that were still delivering barely a trickle of water.

European and international pressure followed as the mayor’s decision was picked up by media organisations. Facing the prospect of large demonstrations, the government ordered the city to restore water supplies. The European Public Services Union (EPSU) said “Having access to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation services should not depend on how much money you have or in which neighbourhood you live.”

Mayor Fürjes actions raises all manner of other questions about attitudes to race, immigration and the treatment of poor and displaced minorities all across Europe, as attitudes harden while EU economies continue to struggle. It also exposes how vulnerable communities are when access to water is restricted or denied. Water and sanitation are essential to the maintenance of health and well being. Creating safe and sustainable sources of water is one of the primary challenges for communities in the developing world. European countries have, for the most part, excellent water infrastructure. Some, including Ireland’s, need investment in order to upgrade and meet the demands of a growing population. But we need to ensure that ownership of water systems are retained by the people, and not be allowed to drift into private hands.

EPSU has highlighted the recent situation in Hungary to emphasise the importance of the European Citizens Initiative Right to Water (ECI) and its demand that the European Commission take steps to guarantee citizens safe and clean drinking water in accordance with UN obligations.

The right to water campaign has been successful in getting its message across as more than 1.5 million people have supported the call to sign the petition.

IMPACT is appealing to members, their friends and families to add their name to this important human rights initiative. The signatures will be submitted on September 9th, so there are just a couple of weeks remaining. Please sign the petition (just click the ‘Support’ button in top left hand corner and follow the steps) if you haven’t already done so.

For more information on the campaign please go to:

The demands of the European Citizens Initiative ‘Right to Water’:

  • The EU institutions and Member States be obliged to ensure that all inhabitants enjoy the right to water and sanitation.
  • Water supply and management of water resources not be subject to ‘internal market rules’ and that water services are excluded from liberalisation.
  • The EU increases its efforts to achieve universal access to water and sanitation.