On a bright and sunny Saturday afternoon this March tens of thousands of protesters descended on the streets of Dublin all in the name of ‘water’. The demonstration, organised by the Right2Water campaign, was part of a wider movement in opposition to the recent introduction of water charges here in Ireland.
Dominating the headlines for many months now, the introduction of domestic water charges has been more controversial than any other political decision since the collapse of the Irish economy in 2008.
Never before in my lifetime has a subject incited such mass, persistent political action on the streets of our towns and cities.
For the first time ever, many of us were forced to consider the value and cost of water; propelling a deeper reflection on what the ‘human right to water’ means and what responsibility we owe, if any, to those who provide us with a safe, clean, domestic supply of water.
But whist thousands rallied on Dublin’s O’Connell Street to chants of “can’t pay, won’t pay”, a number of very different water demonstrations were taking place in communities across Ireland.
Throughout March, and continuing into April, over 1400 young people from the idyllic west coast town of Kinvara, Co. Galway to the bustling city streets of Dublin “Walked for Water” to raise awareness of the global water and sanitation crisis and its impact on communities, especially children and women, in the developing world.
Carrying buckets, watering-cans, and bottles of water, and displaying banners and posters, these young people collectively walked over 60 kilometres in solidarity with their peers in the global south, who walk an average distance of 6 kilometres daily to fetch water.
In Dublin, Galway, Drogheda and Rome, Irish students engaged their schools and wider communities in a different water debate; highlighting the realities of the lives of children living in water poverty, with unclean water and poor sanitation remaining the world’s second biggest killer of children.
For the past 4 years Aidlink, an Irish NGO delivering sustainable water and sanitation facilities to rural communities in Africa, has facilitated annual Walks for Water in schools across Ireland as part of the global campaign “The World Walks for Water and Sanitation”.
Protests across Ireland this year for ‘water rights’ provided a fascinating backdrop from which to engage young people.
Concepts of access, ownership, water as a human right and responsible usage are no longer distant debates but have become dinner table discussions for families throughout the country.
The cost of providing domestic water has unleashed a society-wide, divisive examination of the value of water encompassing key debates around pragmatism, philosophy, ideology and politics.
As Irish society continues to grapple with our own domestic water debate, the past few weeks have seen young people across the country participate in a very different type of action.
This year 1400 Irish students “walked for water” not in opposition to the Irish water charges, but to call for an end to the global water and sanitation crisis which sees 748 million people worldwide live without access to a sufficient, safe and acceptable water supply.
For more info on Aidlink’s Walk for Water initiative see http://aidlink.ie/walk-for-water-2014
 Right2Water is an Irish public campaign by activists, citizens, community groups, political parties/individuals and trade unionists who are calling for the Irish Government to recognise and legislate for access to water as a human right and demanding the abolishment of the planned water charges.