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Drought in Botswana, a learning opportunity to achieve water security – UN expert

GABORONE / GENEVA (17 November 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Léo Heller, today urged the Government of Botswana to take the current extreme drought as an opportunity to develop a comprehensive strategy for providing access to safe drinking water and sanitation in the foreseen increasing water stress.

“The current drought should not be considered as a sporadic event, but rather as a driver for acquiring water security as a national priority,” the independent expert stressed at the end of a nine-day official visit* to Botswana. “A strategic and participatory process, oriented to the provision of water and sanitation for all, will be a short-cut to prevent illnesses and deaths related to water-borne diseases and economic losses.”

A significant part of the population is currently facing a severe water shortage due to a long drought in the country. People in Greater Gaborone Area and other cities are under starker water rationing, with several consecutive days in a week without any supply. “Such a measure hits the poor and the vulnerable hardest,” Mr. Heller said noting that the situation raises serious human rights concerns of water quality, water quantity and related health impacts.

As water stress in Botswana is predicted to get higher and higher due to the impact of climate change and increasing water demand, “the Government must establish measures in order to prevent severe environmental situations from translating into water shortage, affecting people’s standard of living,” he said.

“The non-retrogression in access to safe drinking water and sanitation is one of the most important obligations of the human rights framework,” the Special Rapporteur underscored.

Water and sanitation in rural villages are a matter of great concern. “Although notable progresses have been made in the water and sanitation sector in Botswana, it is now time to set up efforts to include those who live in small villages and especially people living in particularly water stressed parts of the country, in the expansion of public utilities,” added the Special Rapporteur, who talked with several communities and visited some households during his mission.

“I found an alarming level of highly precarious water supply in these villages – in some cases with no public provision at all” he said. “In the same villages, the bush was the only solution to most of the people’s physiological needs. I was surprised by still a common practice of open defecation in villages”

“In a community in Sexaxa, a family explained to me how women and girls need to fetch water from a river, located not less than 1 km from the household. They consume an average of 20 litres of brown river water per person per day without boiling because they cannot afford or have access to fuel. Such a situation does not meet human rights requirements,” the expert added.

Equality and non-discrimination is a core human rights principle. Botswana upholds this principle in its Constitution, and it is therefore expected to guide the implementation of water and sanitation services as well as the comprehensive strategy to address water scarcity, the expert noted. “A policy oriented by the principle of equality must address the needs of people in rural areas, including resettled communities,” he said.

“The Government of Botswana is at a critical moment to translate its commitment to prioritize access to sanitation and safe drinking water for personal and domestic uses into full implementation. I am confident that the Government, who is making progresses in this regard, has the capacity to make the human rights to water and sanitation a reality for everyone in the country,” Mr. Heller concluded.

The Special Rapporteur will present a final report on his official visit to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2016, which will include his final findings and recommendations to the Government of Botswana.

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16763&LangID=E

Léo Heller is the UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation. He was appointed by the Human Rights Council in November 2014. Mr. Heller is currently a researcher in the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/WaterAndSanitation/SRWater/Pages/SRWaterIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

UN Human Rights, country page – Botswana: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/BWIndex.aspx

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