In our hands – the human right to water

If you wanted to raise the issue of water privatisation and its effect on the human right to water, you might turn to animation. Particularly if you needed to emphasise the role we all play as consumers in the water crisis
Isobel Foulsham
23 April 2010

This animation was made for a project in my Human Rights Masters course at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies. My brief was to publish something in the media. I have always been interested in how arts can be used to advocate human rights, especially to illustrate the immediacy of problems and the roles individuals can play. I wanted to combine my two interests and saw this as a good chance. Rather than sitting in the library for another week I decided to get creative and pulled out all my A- Level art equipment.

Animation is a great medium to disseminate information. Films can be colourful and creative, encouraging wider audiences to focus on the given issue. This was my first attempt at making an animation. From the beginning I had ideas in my mind and even the specific images to show my message. I had visions and sketches of growing leaves and people on tubes, but little idea of how to put it together.  Luckily my brother had some know-how and encouraged me to begin. The whole animation is five frames a second. Three minutes was quite a daunting task at the beginning. These images of the eye, the bottle and the tap were all done by rotoscoping. I recorded a short video of what I wanted to show and then split it into frames, projecting it onto a wall and drawing hundreds of images, changing them very slightly each time.

The easier parts to make were the water scenes. I had a camera set over a piece of paper and splashed about with watercolours and a bowl of ink, taking pictures as the colours made the patterns. I feel it is the combination of styles that makes it interesting to watch: the movement of the water is very lively, and I hope the cut-out paper gives it a cute home-made touch.

I feel the sound is what really brings it together. The guitar music by Sam Hodge is perfect for the wiggling leaves. The narration took a while, with only an old sing – star microphone. This was quite a challenge, but I feel it has worked well. The voice is calm and neutral and allows the images to speak for themselves.

During this year I have focused my studies on the human right to water. Before beginning the course I spent a while in Peru, in the earthquake-destroyed city of Pisco, witnessing at first hand the troubles experienced by people. Close to a billion people have no access to safe drinking water. In Pisco in particular, two years after the earthquake, the government had not fixed the water or sewage systems, and attaining sufficient uncontaminated water is still a daily battle. Once back in England I began an internship with the organisation WaterAid. This was inspiring. With the practical experience from my time in Peru and at WaterAid, and my new legal knowledge from my Masters course, I felt ready to become an advocate.

Beginning to research the subject more in- depth, it shocked me to read specific cases from Bolivia and India where it has been made illegal for communities to use their local river water. Instead, they have been forced to pay foreign corporations, all in the name of development. The more you read, you find that these are familiar stories all around the world. Even in the United States families have been cut off from the local water supply when they were unable to pay for the steeply rising prices set by private companies. In the UK we are lucky that our government has maintained strict regulations.   

With water threatening to become such an intense crisis in the future, I feel it is important to illustrate every individual’s role in protecting this essential source, or helping to aggravate the problem. Rather than simply raising awareness of the difficulties faced by millions around the world I wanted to provide a clear message about how we can make a difference. I hope that it makes people stop and think about the things we take for granted and wonder what impact they could be having in the world.

It is becoming increasingly acknowledged that the level of consumption in the developed world is unsustainable. We import products from far away places, draining their essential water supplies so that we can have the freshest, most exotic luxuries. This animation tries to raise many of these issues in a very short amount of time. I hope to inspire people through it to continue questioning how we live. But most of all, I wanted it to end on a happy note. I think this is important. On my course we have all heard about the most horrific abuses, and watched the most depressing films. Watching something with a positive message really makes a difference. That’s the idea.

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