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12 years after UN Declaration of water as a human right: Groups warn African governments against privatisation agenda

On July 28, 2022, the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), alongside the Our Water Our Right Africa Coalition hosted a webinar with African water justice campaigners, in commemoration of the 12th year of the United Nations Resolution declaring water and sanitation a human right (Resolution 64/292). This was declared on July 28, 2010.

 

The webinar, which was jointly organised by CAPPA, the African Women Water Sanitation and Hygiene Network (AWWASHNET), the Ecumenical Water Network of Africa (EWN/A), and the Our Water Our Right Africa Coalition, was attended by members of the public, labour union activists, members of civil society and the media, with representation across countries of Africa, including Cameroon, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Uganda, as well as the global community with solidarity from the Africa Water Justice Network.

The engaging and highly educating session had a diverse pool of speakers, including Anne Maina, Coordinator of Biodiversity & Biosafety Association of Kenya, Chief Ewuokem of SYNATEEC (Cameroon), Fatou Diouf of Public Services International (PSI), Oumar Ba of the Senegalese Water Workers Union, Veronica Nwanya of Africa Women Water and Sanitation Network (AWWASHNET) and Vickie Urema-Onyekuru of Child Health Organization.

The webinar was described by the moderator, Aderonke Ige of CAPPA as a “diagnostic assessment of the state of water resources in the African region since the United Nations’ Resolution 12 years ago”.

 

The panelists, while sharing in-country experiences on water governance also examined intersections of justice, gender, health, biosafety, human dignity, inclusion, and rights of workers.

 

All the speakers unanimously identified privatisation as a major threat to water justice in Africa, spanning over a decade of looming commodification and water grab by corporations such as Suez and Veolia, with drivers of the privatisation agenda being the World Bank, IMF, AFDB, and other IFIs.

 

According to Anne Maina, Communities in Kenya have been facing threats of privatisation for decades. Maina revealed that Veolia and Suez, being the major corporations at the forefront of water hijack, secured major contracts in consulting and construction in Kenya, thereby gaining a foothold in the country and the African region at large. She revealed how the labour and civil society have been pushing back alongside large communities of Kenyans for whom the subject matter of water is more than a mere commodity for grab but a matter of life and death-of survival!

 

Chief Ewoukem Atabong emphasized the menace that the activities of Cameroon Water Corporation (CAMWATER) have generated, ranging from poor management to inefficiency among others. According to Chief Ewoukem, it is important to flush corruption out of the water sector in order to achieve efficiency. For the foremost Cameroonian labour activist, the country has experienced both worlds, and with the terrible experiences during the privatisation regime, it is only logical that the country does not fall into that snare again.

Water, gender and economic crisis

In her own presentation, Veronica Nwanya stated that the gendered nature of the water crisis, like many other social, economic and political crisis cannot be wished away. Nwanya submitted that it is imperative that the women constituent is not neglected or short-changed in policy formulation and governance. She maintained that women are culturally saddled with most of the water-based responsibilities and chores within our communities, and are therefore the worst hit when water is not prioritized or entrenched as a human right.

 

Speaking to the movement-building efforts in Senegal, Cameroon and the rest of Francophone Africa, Fatou Diouf challenged the incessant water grab being experienced by poor communities across these countries. On the impacts of privatisation on workers, Diouf said that privatization worsens the conditions of workers and their ability to organize collectively into unions. She pointed out that in those situations, governments begin to prioritise the servicing of their PPP partners and contracts above the payment of workers.

According to Diouf, privatisation threatens job security, leads to loss of status as public servants, and difficulty in protecting and improving working conditions, and wages among other challenges.

Unfair policy stirs crisis

Recounting the specific struggles of the labour force under the current privatisation regime in Senegal, Oumar Ba, said it cannot be claimed that privatisation is a solution to the water crisis on the soil.

According to Oumar, workers in the water sector are currently on strike due to several ills ranging from poor remuneration to unwholesome working conditions, prioritization of “expatriates” above indigenous workers while overstretching the indigenous workers, among others.

 

During the webinar, it was also pointed out that in Senegal, Suez is the water company that has controlled the water system under a 15-year contract.

Water is life

Vickie Uremma-Onyekuru, in her own submission, restated the need for states and countries in Africa to resist the pressure and bait of commodifying water. She maintained that water is life and if water is taken away from the existence of a people, it is tantamount to taking away their lives. She ended on a note of charge to African governments to prioritise people above profits and consider dimensions of inclusiveness in water governance. Uremma reiterated that the state of water after a decade and two years of Resolution 64/292 are far from satisfactory and urged that African states do better.

 

Panelists and attendees at the webinar agreed that after twelve years of the declaration of water as a human right, the conversation should have reasonably progressed to how countries have successfully integrated the human right to water and sanitation in their laws and policies as opposed to the rather unfortunate reality of continued struggles with basic issues of availability, affordability and access to water, leaving a large population of communities behind. The inhumane threat and spread of commodification of water resources on the continent with all its negative consequences on peoples, communities and workers were described as absurd.

No to Water Resources Bill

The session also spotlighted the controversial “Water Resources Bill” in Nigeria which according to Aderonke Ige, has been condemned by Nigerians as draconian and unpopular.

 

The session ended with specific recommendations on forward movement for the entire water justice community and people, with most of the recommendations directed at African governments, Private water corporations, Regional Intergovernmental Bodies, and International Financial Institutions.

 

Some of the recommendations included a charge to African governments to rise to their obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill the human right to water for all people by prioritising robust public investment, and ensuring meaningful public participation in water governance, with particular focus on the perspectives of those typically left out of decision-making, such as women, low-income, and rural communities; integration of the human right to water in laws and policies; foster regional solidarity and collaboration by supporting Public-Public Partnerships in the water sector and other essential services; intervene when the human right to water is under threat in their member states with financial and diplomatic action; stop pushing water privatisation, commercialisation, and financialisation on African states through advisory services, baits in form of loans and grants, or other programmes.

 

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