Water, sanitation policy interrogated

As SOLD calls for free national water supply, threatens to sue government

 

’MAKERESEMESE LETUKA

MASERU – General lack of formal water supplies combined with unhygienic practices, as well as unsafe disposal of domestic waste water, represent Lesotho’s water and sanitation problems – and local advocacy group, Survivors of Lesotho Dams (SOLD), intends to interrogate the 2007 government policy on water and sanitation. SOLD national coordinator, Lenka Thamae, says the group plans to sue the government for failure to implement the policy. Speaking at a press conference in Maseru on Tuesday this week, SOLD said that they are also campaigning for the whole nation to be provided with water for free.

SOLD, Thamae revealed, will be working together with its partners to raise enough money to sue the government to implement the 2007 government policy. The advocacy body further called on the newly appointed Minister of Water, Kemiso Mosenene, to initiate and accelerate a review of the 2007 policy and ensure it is put into action. The policy, among others, compels government to provide a stipulated amount of litres of water freely to the public. “In 2019, Lesotho had a visitor from the UN by the name of Léo Heller to find out from the government how far they are with the process of implementing the 30 litres policy that was promised to Basotho, but to date this has not been implemented,” Thamae said.

Heller is human rights expert and a UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in relation to safe drinking water and sanitation, who urged the Lesotho government to place water, sanitation and hygiene high on its national development agenda, and to use human rights to water and sanitation as a framework to advance the development of Basotho.

During his two-week visit to Lesotho, Heller met representatives of both central government and district administrators, international organisations and those providing international funding, community councils and members of civil society organisations.

He also spoke to individuals living in rural and urban areas, visited households, schools, health clinics, prisons and a church in the districts of Maseru, Mafeteng, Mohale’s Hoek, Mokhotlong, Thaba-Tseka and Quthing. “In Lesotho, water, sanitation and hygiene lie at the centre of the poverty cycle in which almost two out of every three Basotho live in poverty. Lack of those services both drives and increases vulnerability, particularly for those already at risk.

“These include orphans, people living with HIV/AIDs, households headed by women, rural women and girls, and those living in remote areas,” he observed. “Using the framework of human rights as a guide would help Lesotho to identify its highest priorities in water and sanitation including key issues like those most vulnerable, equality and non-discrimination and access to information.”

Heller submitted a full report of his findings and recommendations to the Human Rights Council in September 2019 and was, since then, expected to further review progress on the human rights to water and sanitation in Lesotho. SOLD was founded in 2004 following the World Summit for Sustainable Development in South Africa.

It is a registered, ecumenical, non-profit making and non-governmental organisation committed to working for justice, good governance, and inclusiveness and participation in decisions that affect communities affected by the construction of the country’s dams and other large infrastructure developments.
They were formed upon the realisation of injustices brought by the compensation policies for people affected by dams and other large infrastructure development projects, negative impacts of the construction of dams and large development projects, non-participation of project affected people and lack of information provided to those affected by dams and large infrastructure development projects.

The absence of an umbrella organisation to speak in one voice and to magnify community voices against injustices and exclusion from the decision-making processes also influenced the formation of the association. SOLD monitors the social and environmental impacts of dams, delivers a “good governance and democracy” programme which targets young people in Lesotho and political parties, the latter is served through its programme on political education in schools and other democratic institutions.  They also focus on anti-corruption monitoring in large infrastructure development projects, promote constitutionalism and the rule of law.

This is inclusive of educating young people and political parties on the strengthening of democracy within Lesotho’s political parties. SOLD also monitors compensation and resettlement in dams, mines, and other large infrastructure development projects and pass on knowledge, skills and experiences relating to the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) to Lesotho’s next generation.

SOLD advocates for water and sanitation to become constitutional rights in Lesotho. And the share of royalties from the sale of water provided by the LHWP, and royalties from mines and other large infrastructure development projects, to be provided to the communities. According to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) baselines prepared by the WHO and UNICEF’s Joint Monitoring Programme in 2015, 2.1 billion people lacked water services reaching the new standards, including 159 million who still drank untreated water directly from surface water sources such as streams or lakes.

Almost 4.5 billion people did not use a sanitation facility that safely disposed of excreta, and 892 million people – mostly in rural areas – still practiced open defecation. The SDGs relating to health, gender equality, education, and poverty are not achievable without improvements in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH.)

UN agencies assert that in achieving the universal access to water and sanitation, the world would achieve sustainable livelihoods, better health and better economies, and that challenges in the WASH sector are unlikely to be adequately addressed unless water security concerns, improved water resources management, and water and sanitation infrastructures are factored altogether with increased waste water treatment and reuse.

Those lacking improved access to drinking water still drink from the unsafe sources while those lacking access to improved sanitation services still defecate in the open. In other words, the actual challenge is even more critical than one may think. The implementation of the water and broader SDGs should go beyond just basic access to water and sanitation, according to the UN, and no country can thrive and prosper without ensuring water and sanitation for all in urban, rural, and hard-to-reach areas – committing to a range of initiatives to spur progress on SDG 6 and other water related SDG targets, one of which is dedicated to ensuring universal access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene for the growing world population, estimated to reach around 10 billion people by 2050.

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