17 July 2003

Namibia: Access to Water is a Basic Human Right

Windhoek — WORLD Health Organisation (WHO) statistics indicate that more than 6 billion people around the world lack access to improved water sources, while 40 per cent are without access to improved sanitation services.

In Namibia, while 99 per cent of the urban population have access to improved water sources, this is true for only about 75 per cent of the rural population.

Intentions are to increase this to 80 per cent by 2005.

But Norman Tjombe, a human rights lawyer and Co-ordinator of the Land, Environment and Development Project of the Legal Assistance Centre (LAC), argues that the state's inability to supply water services to certain households, or their inability to pay for services, is a blatant violation of their constitutional rights.

Last week Tjombe presented a paper entitled 'Water- A basic human right or a privilege earned only by the depth of one's pocket?' to civil society during the 15th commemoration of the LAC.

"There are certain basic needs that are essential for a dignified life, indeed for life itself.

Water is one of these essential human needs and a clean environment is also increasingly recognised as a fundamental human right," argued Tjombe.

According to the paper, scarcity, water and ground contamination, and lack of access to water for the poor are among the main obstacles to full enjoyment of the right to water.

The right to water has two levels - enough for all needs and for specific purposes such as for food and health.

Tjombe cites numerous international human rights' statements which either implicitly or explicitly make reference to water as a human right.

He argues that the right to water is not just a feature of international human rights and environmental laws, but also enshrined in the national legislation of a number of countries.

Tjombe defines the right to access to water as the water needing to be of "sufficient cleanliness and in sufficient quantities to meet individual needs".

"If a member of a household must walk for hours to fetch daily water, or if fees are so prohibitive that a poor household must sacrifice other essential rights, such as education, health services or food, or else use contaminated water, then individuals of that household are not enjoying their right to adequate water".

While Namibian legislation does not explicitly provide for rights to water, Tjombe argues that, since Namibia a signatory to international law (in particular the Convention of the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1979 and the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child), which explicitly requires the protection of the right to water, these rights are enforceable in Namibian law.

"There is no doubt that the Government has a statutory obligation to provide water to its citizens".

Tjombe, therefore, encourages civil society to make use of a legal, administrative and policy instruments to see to it that their rights are met.

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