Jan van de Venis and David Snow | WaterLex |

WaterLex conducted training sessions on needs and obligations related to the human right to water and sanitation (HRWS) last week in Entebbe, Uganda, for national human rights institutions (NHRIs) representing that country as well as Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, and Tanzania.

The late-November 2014 sessions, part of the WaterLex NHRI Initiative for Good Water Governance established in October 2013, are intended to help unify NHRIs in their efforts to improve water governance that enables the realisation of the HRWS, recognised in 2010 when the United Nations adopted related resolutions. The training was delivered in partnership with the Danish Institute for Human Rights and the South Africa Human Rights Commission.

The NRHIs in attendance were the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR), the Tanzania Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance, and the Office of the Ombudsman of Namibia, and the South Africa Human Rights Commission.

Specific to the region, the sessions addressed the issue of Sub-Saharan Africa not being on-track to realise the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for the population’s access to an improved source of water by 2015. About 40 percent of the 783 million residents lack such access, and observers hold little hope that the region will reach the goal of 75 percent coverage on schedule. By contrast, North Africa is at 92 percent, just shy of its 94 percent target. Regarding sanitation, less than a quarter of people in 18 Sub-Saharan countries use improved sanitation facilities, a situation that raises serious health concerns.

“The training was enlightening on various water-governance issues that affect our communities and countries from a human rights perspective, and I think  moving forward, KNCHR is better equipped to interrogate, monitor, and report on HRWS issues more comprehensively,” said Jacqueline Njeru, of the Kenyan NHRI.

In the sessions, numerous real-world water governance-related human rights challenges and proposed remedies that NHRIs can pursue with governments were discussed (see lists below).

  • Uganda
  1. Seasonal water sources are affected by the dry season, resulting in shortages. Government needs to create water reserves so that there is enough water in times of drought.
  2. There is no clear law about the right to water in the constitution or at lower levels.
  3. The UHRC must ensure that the Uganda Law Reform Commission is informed and should be advised to alter national laws and policies so that they are in compliance with international obligations tied to the HRWS.
  4. Water is expensive and seen as a commodity rather than a right. Government should ensure, through subsidies, that everyone can afford water.
  5. People are not informed about their right to water and about pollution. UHRC should increase public awareness through education and create public participation on water issues.
  6. The government does not give top priority to water in budgeting. Government should prioritize water and sanitation in budgeting, which UHRC will recommend.
  7. In rural areas there are bore holes for groundwater access, but communities do not have the financial and technical means to maintain them. In budget allocations, maintenance and repair expenses should be included.
  8. Bore holes and wells can be very far away from people, who must often walk long distances and wait in long lines. Government should spread out bore holes in communities. Each village should have at least one bore hole, and there should be one water point every 500 meters in populated areas. Maximum waiting time should be no more than 15 minutes.
  9. Government should improve on its efforts to give rural areas electric infrastructure to power water pumps, perhaps by decentralized energy sources like solar power.
  10. Water supply is often not sufficient for future population growth. Government should allocate water sufficient to any population. UHRC should monitor the government compliance with progressive realization of the right to water and sanitation. UHRC should empower the rights holders to hold duty bearers accountable.
  • Kenya and Tanzania
  1. Both countries use a commodity approach to water access, not a human rights-based approach (HRBA). Due to privatisation, anyone can get into the business of providing water. In Tanzania, existing policies to integrate a an HRBA should be reviewed. In Kenya, regulation is needed on pricing and access to the market with HRBA. In both nations, a minimum amount of water that needs to be provided for everyone irrespective of ability to pay should be established.
  2. People do not challenge the government regarding access to water. They accept that there is no water and buy it in the shop. Kenya and Tanzania need public awareness, specific research for awareness on specific cultural practices related to water and sanitation. Public-interest cases where government is shown not to comply with an HRBA should be gathered.
  3. Water is seen as a privilege that government does not provide. NHRIs need to increase lobbying for water-and-sanitation resources allocation and have a specific percentage of budgets allocated to them.
  4. There is no institutionalised HRBA and no knowledge that access to water is a human right. Increased public awareness, inclusion of all stakeholders and an interdisciplinary approach, as well as minimum standards and amounts of water allocation, need to be established.
  5. Discrimination against marginalized groups exists. For example, water will be brought to areas where it is not highly needed but not to areas where marginalized groups need it. Regulations dealing with compliance, quality assurance and non-discrimination are needed, and should address future generations’ needs. HRBAs must be institutionalised in all legal structures.
  6. No appropriate system and practice of measuring and monitoring the right to water exists. A monitoring system should be established to obligate government to report information to all stakeholders annually.
  7. To increase security and avoid communal conflicts involving people as well as livestock, public awareness of water access issues and negotiated sharing should be established. NHRIs should instruct the appropriate bodies to include HRBA in such negotiations.
  8. Regarding right to health (water related illnesses), right to education (children not in school because they must spend time fetching water), and right to a clean environment (pollution), there is a lack of public knowledge and an absence of  implementation and prioritization mechanisms and ways to link overlapping issues water-access issues.
  • Namibia and South Africa
  1. In South Africa and Namibia, water governance with a HRBA is being promoted through education programmes for local government, youth, and indigenous, poor, and economically stable communities, as well as capacity-building measures. Communities participate on the HRBA and on budgets so that they are better distributed. Various human rights are considered together so better support realising HRWS.
  2. Namibia provides its people with clean water, even in rural areas. Government create bore holes and potable water infrastructure connected to water infrastructure. Likewise, because infrastructure has been created and is well-maintained, sanitation is generally good. Price per month per household is considered reasonable. There are few environmental threats, such as pollution and extreme weather. One existing challenge relates to delays in connecting to the water infrastructure.
In Uganda, representatives of six African NHRIs undergo training on the human right to water and sanitation.

Representatives of African NHRIs undergo training on the human right to water in Uganda.

Go to the project page: NHRI Initiative for Good Water Governance

Federal Foreign Office Germany, Auswärtiges Amt


WaterLex would like to thank the Federal Foreign Office of Germany for their generous support of this project.

For more information:
WaterLex International Secretariat
Tel: +41 22 907 36 46
Email: info (at) waterlex.org

About WaterLex:

WaterLex is an international public interest development organization and membership association based in Geneva, Switzerland. It is a UN-Water Partner with UN ECOSOC special consultative status. Its mission is to develop sustainable solutions based on human rights to improve water governance worldwide, particularly in regard to consistent water law and policy frameworks. It works with an alliance of interested parties to improve water-governance frameworks, bringing them in line with country obligations under international human rights law. The interested parties are individuals and groups working in government (diplomatic missions), academia (professors of law, researchers), bilateral cooperation (water management advisors), the judiciary (high/supreme courts judges), the UN system (UN-Water family members), and civil society (NGOs that work on water issues). WaterLex works in partnership with 13 universities to continuously enrich the content of the WaterLex Legal Database. The organisation is funded by grants and project financing from public agencies, foundations, private gifts, and in-kind contributions. Established in 2010, when the human right to water was recognised by the UN, the organisation has a secretariat in Geneva with 12 staff members, a supervisory board of directors, and a large pool of members and expert advisors. It is an official partner of the Global Water Partnership, UNDP Cap-Net, UNDP GWS, UNEP Global Wastewater Initiative, and UNECE, and a member of the board of the Swiss Water Partnership.