TH!NK Namibia News

Water As A Human Right

The extent to which any Government facilitates the requirements for equitable access to water and sanitation by its citizens has been under discussion for a long time by the international community. On 28 July 2010, after years of campaigning to capture the right to water and sanitation services, the United Nations General Assembly eventually passed Resolution 64/292 in which the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation was recognised as a human right. The Resolution gives guidance to the standards of service delivery that States must seek to achieve for their citizens, or must ensure their private sector providers achieve this. It also calls upon States and international organisations to provide financial resources to support capacity-building and to transfer technology to assist countries, in particular developing countries, to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all.

When considering the understanding that access to water and sanitation services is regarded as a human right, it would be interesting to evaluate the performance of the Namibian Government in this regard.

Since independence in 1990, the Namibian Government embarked upon a rigorous programme to improve water supply and sanitation services. This programme was strengthened and guided by the water supply and sanitation policy adopted in 1993, long before the 2010 declaration of water and sanitation services as a human right. It also predated guidance provided to governments by the UN resolution to meet their obligations to give their citizens access to adequate water and sanitation services. The water and sanitation coverage achieved by Namibia over the past 22 years is reflected in the following table:



Urban water supply 99
Urban sanitation 75
Rural water supply 90
Rural Sanitation 20

Water supply and Sanitation Coverage in Namibia

Namibia also managed to achieve the standards of service delivery referred to in the UN resolution and the water supplied conforms to a large extent to the following criteria:

  1. Sufficient. The water supply for each person is sufficient for personal and domestic uses. These uses ordinarily include drinking, personal sanitation, washing of clothes, food preparation, personal and household hygiene. This requirement is between 50 and 100 litres of water per person per day and today most Namibians have access to this quantity of water.
  2. Safe. The water required for personal or domestic use is safe, therefore free from micro-organisms, chemical substances and radiological hazards that constitute a threat to health. In this regard the Namibian Government adopted the Namibian Water Quality Guidelines.
  3. Acceptable. Water should be aesthetically acceptable as far as colour (turbidity), odour and taste for each personal or domestic use is concerned. The water supplied by all formal water schemes in Namibia, is treated and conforms to this requirement.
  4. Physically accessible. Everyone has the right to a water and sanitation service that is physically accessible within, or in the immediate vicinity of the household, educational institution, workplace or health institution. Namibia has a huge surface area and a small population, but most water schemes are within relatively easy reach of the people.
  5. Affordable. Water supply, and access to water facilities and services, should be affordable for all. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) suggests that water supply costs should not exceed 3 per cent of household income. However, the unit cost of water delivery in Namibia is very high due to the high capital investments required to supply the water and the relatively low consumption due to the small population. This requires special measures to make the water more a ordable and is covered in the Namibian water policies of 1993, 2000 and 2008.

The present coverage of 90% for rural water supply services is an astounding achievement, but it can also be seen in the table that the coverage of rural sanitation services is still very poor. However, the Government is attending to the issue after the adoption of the updated Water Supply and Sanitation Policy in 2008 and the subsequent preparation of the National Sanitation Strategy.

The bottom line is that the declaration of water and sanitation services as a human right is no guarantee that a Government will meet its obligations, but one can safely say that Namibians are already reaping the bene ts of adequate water and sanitation services facilitated by a committed Government.

About the author: Mr Piet Heyns is a well known professional in the water sector in Namibia, Southern Africa (the SADC Region), Africa and elsewhere in the world. He has more than 42 years experience in the water sector and serves as an Associate of the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia (DRFN). 

BY Mr Piet Heyns

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