Access to clean drinking water a human right concern

By Gertrude Ankah Nyavi, Banjul- Gambia

Girl looking for water in Africa

Water is a human rights issue









African governments have been urged to see accessibility to clean drinking water as a human rights issue other than a basic need and essential to the realisation of all human rights.

Making the call, the NGO Forum on Human Rights in Africa also asked Africa’s Commission on Human Rights to urge AU states to cooperate in the management of their trans-boundary water resources, as expressed in international customary law, in accordance with their human rights obligations.

Recallingthe Resolution of the African Commission requiring a human rights-based approach to natural resources, including water resources, the group said the Commission had been charged to ensure African states protected the quality of international water resources as sources of drinking water.

At a briefing with a member of the commission in-charge of Economic, Social and Cultural Right, Mrs Sahli Fadel Maya on a resolution to be presented at the 54rd African Charter on Human and People’s Rights in the Republic of Gambia on Wednesday October 23, the group also called on governments to first secure water allocation to satisfy vital human needs.

This, they said included drinking water as well as water for subsistence farming and water for securing the livelihood of dependent riparian populations, in determining an equitable and reasonable use of an international watercourse or aquifer.

According to the group, Africa has 63 trans-boundary river basins, representing 93% freshwater of the continent, which indicates every African country has a trans-boundary watercourse.

They emphasised that freshwater is a key factor in sustainable development and is essential for the protection of basic human rights, e.g. health, food, and energy.

The NGOs observed that climate change, water overuse and pollution jeopardised the human rights of present and future generations. Using Chad as an example, they said the surface area of Lake Chad had decreased from 25’000km2 to 1’500km2 between 1960 and 2000.

They added that the risk of water tensions had massive impact on human rights; hence there was urgent need for a legal framework for cooperation to secure human rights.

The NGOs therefore called for the establishment of multi-stakeholder management mechanisms, while ensuring that communities and individuals accessed information, and participated in the human rights impact assessment and decision-making concerning the management of international surface and groundwater resources.

They also urged the Commission to ensure that communities and individuals were entitled within their respective jurisdiction to judicial, administrative or other remedies, when the right to water and sanitation of an individual of a riparian state was threatened or violated by the activity of another state sharing the same aquifer.

The NGOs including WaterAid, Waterlex and Green Cross, raised the need to respect the principle of non-discrimination within and among neighbouring populations, and take into account the needs of vulnerable and most marginalised people, including women and children as well as displaced people, while implementing obligations.

Meanwhile, all is set for the official opening of the 54rd African Charter on Human and People’s Right to be held at Banjul in the Republic of Gambia. During the session, selected members of African states are expected to submit their human right performance report to the commission. The commissioners will then make follow up enquiries as to why some obligations were not been met by those countries.

Also, NGOs who have observatory status ACHP will be given fifteen minutes to present statement issues on human right in their various countries.

The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (also known as the Banjul Charter) is an international human rights instrument that is intended to promote and protect human rights and basic freedoms in the African continent.

Oversight and interpretation of the Charter is the task of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which was set up in 1987 and is now headquartered in Banjul, Gambia. A protocol to the Charter was subsequently adopted in 1998 whereby an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights was to be created. The protocol came into effect on 25 January 2005.


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