The UN General Assembly has declared access to clean water and sanitation a "human right" in a resolution that more than 40 countries, including the US and Britain, did not support.
The resolution adopted by the 192-member world body expresses deep concern that an estimated 884 million people lack access to safe drinking water and more than 2.6 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation.
UN anti-poverty goals adopted by world leaders in 2000 call for the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation to be halved by 2015.
The non-binding resolution, sponsored by Bolivia, was approved by a vote of 122-0 with 41 abstentions, including the US and many Western nations, though Belgium, Italy, Germany, Spain and Norway all supported it.
Bolivia's representative said many rights have been recognised, including the rights to health, life, and education. He said the Bolivian government introduced a resolution on the right to adequate water and sanitation because contaminated water causes more than 3.5 million deaths every year – more than any war.
American diplomat John Sammis told the General Assembly that the US "is deeply committed to finding solutions to our water challenges", but he said the resolution "describes a right to water and sanitation in a way that is not reflective of existing international law."