The lack of safe drinking water and sanitation in many of Windhoek’s informal settlements is a serious violation of basic human rights, legal experts say.
Besides the rest of Namibia, “in Windhoek alone there are so many different forms of violations of this right,” Legal Assistance Centre constitutional human rights lawyer Corinna van Wyk told Namibian Sun yesterday. Van Wyk explained that the LAC research project is aimed at educating Namibians about the fact that access to water and sanitation is a basic human right.
“You cannot be said to enjoy your right to dignity if you do not have the right to access clean water,” she explained.
The project was created in order to see “what the public requires in terms of becoming aware of their human right to access water as their basic need to enjoy their right to dignity as enshrined in the constitution.”
She explained that while access to water is deemed a socio-economic right, which is not specifically protected under the constitutional bill of rights, the violation to access clean water “infringes upon your right to dignity and this is a guaranteed protection under Chapter 3 of the constitution”.
She further questioned a finding in a 2013 report on access to clean drinking water, which found that 87% of all Namibians have access to drinking water. Research over the past two years in the informal settlements of Windhoek has cast doubt on the accuracy of that number, she said.
Van Wyk said that at the very least, all those living in the informal settlements of Windhoek “have no reasonable access to clean water for human consumption and no proper sanitation facilities.”
Van Wyk listed a number of issues preventing access to drinking water, including public taps that are closed for any number of issues, forcing residents to walk long distances to reach water for drinking and sanitation.
She said some people walk “at least 45 minutes just to reach a working water point and they make at least three such rounds a day”.
In addition, several areas do not have toilet facilities or the “toilets are blocked or locked” in which case the people are forced to use the surrounding bush which poses health and other risks, especially for women and children who have to walk to remote areas to relieve themselves.
A combination of issues has played a role in numerous violations surrounding access to clean water and sanitation throughout Namibia, and Windhoek specifically, Van Wyk said.
Van Wyk blamed a lack of “ministerial priorities” as well as a lack of initiative to develop unique systems suitable to an arid country. She also highlighted the fact that prices, driven by the needs of a semi-private organisation such as NamWater, “put the cost to access water at a level that the impoverished are not able to afford”.
She identified the “difficulty of defining their duties in terms of service provision and planning” by local and regional authorities as part of the problem.
“Instead of working together, they work in isolation”, she said.
In terms of a broader impact Van Wyk said there was “ignorance of climate change and failure to take precautionary measures for a crisis that has been predicted.”
These issues and many others have prevented the establishment of a reliable system of water provision and sanitation, especially to impoverished communities.