Botswana water woes worry UN expert

Mmopane residents buying water from William Kobe PIC: MORERI SEJAKGOMO
Mmopane residents buying water from William Kobe PIC: MORERI SEJAKGOMO

The United Nations water expert, Leo Heller, worries about the Botswana water situation, and the fact that the country has been going through one of the worst droughts in history.

Heller, the UN Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, had been on a fact-finding mission to Botswana from November 9-17, 2015 with the aim to assess the situation of the human rights to water and sanitation in the country.

Heller who met government representatives, traditional leaders, communities, civil society and international organisations in Gaborone, Kasane, Maun, Shaikarawe, Ghanzi, Xade and New Xade before his report, says in Botswana available water resources are getting lower over time.

“I believe that the government can learn from this emergency and place water security as the main driver for the national plans and policies, prioritising personal and domestic uses. I also call upon the international community to provide support to the current emergency situation. For a longer-term strategy, I urge the neighbouring countries to cooperate and promptly come to agreements on the use of trans-boundary water resources,” he said yesterday when briefing the media about his visit to Botswana.


Heller expressed worry on the human rights to water and sanitation in Botswana, noting that the country has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against women.

“These international human rights treaties include legal obligations on the human right to life, and obligations related to access to water and sanitation. However, Botswana is one of the few remaining countries not to have ratified the international covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which is a strong legal basis for the human rights to water and sanitation,” he said.

The UN expert on water and sanitation continued: “In line with the mandate entrusted to me by the Human Rights Council, top which Botswana is a member, I would like to underline that the country is bound by the international human rights law and principles”.

Heller said according to international human rights law, the state must take measures to ensure, as soon as possible, access to water and adequate sanitation that are accessible, available, affordable, acceptable and safe in all spheres of life.

The realisation of these rights, he added, also requires providing access to adequate and affordable hygiene practices, including hand washing and menstrual hygiene management.

“Effective measures have to be taken in order to ensure an adequate disposal and treatment of human wastes.

Furthermore, discrimination is prohibited in relation to basic services including the human rights to water and sanitation. I strongly encourage Botswana to sign and ratify the international Covenant and Economic, Social and Cultural rights as to recognise the human rights to water and sanitation is a crucial first step to realise access to water and sanitation for all without discrimination.”

On availability, Heller said the situation is worse and needs attention.

“Those who have the means are buying water and storing it in large tanks. Many I met were simply storing water in buckets. Even in a clinic in the Greater Gaborone area, there was no water.

The clinic was going through a procurement process of buying a water tank in the middle of this drought with government support. This kind of contingency plan must be put in place and implemented in advance,” he said.

The UN expert continued that one of the human rights obligations is that water must be continuous.

“While controlled rationing of water may be unavoidable in extreme circumstances, frequent lack of water inside pipelines can lead to increased contamination of water mains though intrusion of harmful substances.”

He added that, “experiences show that rationing of water through intermittent supply is a false economy as this invariably leads to increased losses. Non-retrogression is also an important principle of human rights, I believe that the government needs to develop a concrete strategy to increase the availability of water through other measures, not relying on intermittent supply for a longer term”.

The Special Rapporteur will submit a comprehensive report to the 33rd session of the UN Human Rights Council in September 2016, which will include his findings and recommendations to the Government of Botswana.

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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