As the world marks the International Human Rights Day, celebrated December 10, annually, different countries have x- rayed critical areas of life that suffer various forms of human right violations .The theme of this year commemoration is “Our Rights, Our freedom, Always”. Here in Nigeria, civil society has not remained silent on the face of glaring human rights violation in various strata of life. The Environmental Rights Action- the Nigerian chapter of Friends of the Earth, International has identified violations in the water sector as one issue in need of urgent intervention by United Nations Human Rights Commission. ERA partnering with Corporate Accountability International (CAI) have zeroed in on Lagos, a city with a population of 21 million people that has been targeted by the World Bank for a Public Private Partnership model of water privatization.
The two organizations blame the Lagos State government for not using the maximum available resources in the state to realise the human right to water, allowing citizens’ general level of access to safe drinking water to regress, and committing violations of the obligation to ensure active, free and meaningful participation in decision-making relating to water.
The text of the letter made available to Nigerian Current by ERA’s head, media and communication, Philip Jakpor, accuses the World Bank of providing support and funding to the Lagos State government to enact policies that aggressively shift water costs to ratepayers through an emphasis on bill collections, metering and cost recovery. These policies also fail to make adequate public expenditures while focusing on PPP that are not designed to or capable of funding infrastructure expansion.
In the letter, the groups x-rayed the Lagos State government and World Bank roles in the Lagos water sector highlighting: violations of the obligation to fulfill the human right to water; violations of the obligation to ensure active, free and meaningful participation; and asked the UN Special Rapporteur for help addressing these violations of the human right to water in Lagos.
The groups agreed that “While infrastructure funding challenges should not be underestimated, Lagos State failure to allocate resources adequate to maintain or expand drinking water access has taken place in a larger context of a growing economy and dramatically increasing revenues.
The letter highlighted the fact that the leadership of Lagos State Water Corporation (LSWC) says total available water assets are capable of producing only 210 MGD, of the 660 MGD needed, with the Lagos Bureau of Statistics going further to report that corporation only pipes water into the home 11% of Lagos homes.
It cited first hand reports from employees of the LSWC which attribute the problems in water delivery to poor maintenance and low staffing power within the utility, a situation that has led to deteriorating infrastructure and retrogression in the production of water.
On infrastructure, LSWC staff go so far as stating that “all major Water Works in Lagos are on the verge of total collapse” because of several reasons. For instance, only eight of the 18 suction pumps at the Akute plant (the city’s main raw water production facility) are functioning. They also revealed that the control panel at Akute has been declared a “danger zone, ” added to the fact that technical devices at the Akute dam are “at the verge of total collapse.”
The group said that in all this, the Lagos government and World Bank officials have pursued policies that have failed to properly raise resources.
“We are concerned that, at the urging and with the support of the World Bank, LSWC is failing to ensure active, free and meaningful participation. On the contrary, LSWC has adopted a “Stakeholder/CSO Interaction Policy” that explicitly seeks to obtain Lagosians’ assent to plans and priorities of the World Bank and LSWC, rather than ensuring active, free and meaningful participation that could guide or shape water policy in Lagos.”
They also list several World Bank and Lagos State government projects and policies that institutionalize the cost-shifting and PPP approaches.
One of them is the Lagos Water Sector Law 2004 which focused on bill collections and metering that would shift a greater burden of water system funding onto rate payers. Another is the $200 million World Bank – funded Second National Urban Water Sector Reform Project (2NUWSRP) in Lagos and Cross River states that has as a major objective the development of public private partnerships, an increase in the proportion of water costs paid directly by citizens to 90%, and the installation of meters to recover costs directly from citizens. Also, since 2005, the LSWC has been observed to prioritise entering into PPPs and is seeking to shift costs of water delivery to rate payers, among others.
ERA/FoEN and CAI insisted that the identified policies emphases on aggressively shifting costs to rate payers and on PPP procurement have led to violations of the human right to water as they have led to a failure to properly raise, allocate and utilize available resources or to budget appropriately.
The group requested the intervention of the UN Special Rapporteur with the Lagos State government and World Bank to provide guidance on how the utility can focus on progressively realising the human right to water and sanitation.