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South Africa not protecting water as a human right

In a report released on March 11, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) says that the South African government is not protecting water as a human right. The report says, “water is viewed mainly as an economic good or commodity by government departments and the private sector…. The result is that most of South Africa’s water is used by business, especially agribusiness, mining, and other industries, at a relatively lower cost per kilolitre than poor households.”

The 79-page Report on the Right to Access Sufficient Water and Decent Sanitation in South Africa: 2014 can be found here.

The South African Press Association highlights, “[The report finds that] the provision of water and sanitation was not approached on a human rights basis. ‘This relates to the principles of transparency and public participation in the delivery of basic services and access to information.’ Government had also failed to budget appropriately for these basic services. ‘The report highlights systemic failures in governance and budgeting, particularly in the implementation of and spending on projects,’ the executive summary said.”

That SAPA report also notes, “The areas worst affected by a lack of water and sanitation were poor black households…. While nationally access to acceptable levels of water stood at 85 percent, in some provinces, like KwaZulu-Natal, 14 percent of people had no access to water at all. Over 70 percent of South African households had access to acceptable levels of sanitation. For the Eastern Cape, however, 12.5 percent of people had no access to sanitation.”

Earlier this month, a Government of South Africa media release stated, “Access to Water and Sanitation is a universal right. The SAHRC as mandated by the Constitution to promote respect and protection for human rights, and monitor the observance of human rights in the country, has been investigating access to these rights by hosting provincial water and sanitation hearings across the country last year. The report emanates from these provincial hearings on the right to water and sanitation which were conducted in rural and impoverished areas across the nine provinces of South Africa. Through these hearings, government departments were tasked and requested to respond to questions on action being taken to address water and sanitation delivery backlogs, including problems with infrastructure.”

In her book Blue Future: Protecting Water for People and the Planet Forever, Blue Planet Project founder Maude Barlow writes, “South Africa included water as a human right in its new constitution when Nelson Mandela formed his ANC government.” Later she notes, “South African water activist and researcher Mary Galvin told me that the neoliberal view of water services is so pervasive in South Africa that water issues are seen as purely technical, and most decision makers are not even aware that there are other ways of approaching challenges. This, she argues, is behind the many ways in which the implementation of the right to water goes unfulfilled, even in a system that is technically public.” 

She adds, “South Africa is also in the midst of a planned fracking boom after the government lifted a 2011 ban on exploration in 2012. Concern about water supplies has grown in the Karoo, an ecologically sensitive semi-arid region of the Eastern Cape, under which most of the natural gas lies. Royal Dutch Shell, Falcon Oil and Gas, and Sunset Energy have been granted licences to explore for gas.”

Barlow also notes, “South Africa is projected to be experiencing a 17 percent gap between water supply and demand by 2030.”

Further reading
Four killed in access to water protests in South Africa
Can the South African government give the green light to fracking while ‘protecting the environment and water resources’?
Blue grabbing in Africa