Lesotho: Fulfilling human rights to water and sanitation critical for human development, says UN expert

A UN human rights expert has urged the Government of Lesotho to place water, sanitation and hygiene high on its national development agenda, and to use the human rights to water and sanitation as a framework to advance the development of the country’s Basotho people.

Geneva, Feb 15, 2019.- “Several gaps in access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene strongly impact the well-being and livelihoods of the Basotho people. Water and sanitation are a bottleneck that holds them back from improving their lives, making choices on their way of living and expanding their freedom,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on water and sanitation, Léo Heller, presenting a statement at the end of a fact-finding mission.

“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. The lack of those services both drives vulnerability and increases it, 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,” the expert said.

“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.”

“Realising the human right to sanitation means that Basotho girls will not miss school because they cannot afford to buy sanitary pads. It also means that Basotho children under five years old would not have to defecate in the open in front of their peers. Ventilated Improved Pit (VIP) latrines would also be maintained and be available for use by the people,” the Special Rapporteur emphasized.

“Making the human right to water a reality for the Basotho people would mean that water quality and availability, key determinants of health, would be guaranteed. Basotho women would no longer be dependent on a bucket of water being filled in a distant and unprotected well. But most importantly, it means the Basotho people could become autonomous and emancipated,” the expert added.

“Fulfilling the human rights to water and sanitation would also allow the most pressing needs of the people to be identified. It would mean that the need for these services in formal and informal education facilities across the country, public spaces, and rural households gravely hit by drought could be identified,” said Mr. Heller.

“Notably, a human rights approach would address the very unjust situation of villages located next to large water dams, but without water. Several reservoirs in Lesotho deliver water to South Africa, leaving some of the Basotho people thirsty. Other dams, both in the highlands and in the southern lowlands, are in the planning process, and it is vital that these issues are not repeated,” the expert stressed.

“There are human rights concerns related to water and sanitation at various stages of mega-projects such as large-scale dams, from the planning stage, through to approval and construction, as well as both the short and long-term operation of these projects. I urge the Government of Lesotho to carry out a human rights impact assessment at each stage paying particular attention to the meaningful participation of those affected, facilitating a two-way conversation and providing easy access to information,” he said.

Mr. Heller will submit a report to the UN General Assembly in 2019 focused on the impact of mega-projects on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation ­– an important issue related to the access to water for the population of Lesotho.

The Special Rapporteur also considered the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission in Lesotho. “I hope the Commission is set up soon with a mandate to oversee issues of economic, social and cultural rights and undertake its watchdog function with independence and autonomy to enforce the realization of those rights,” he said.

During his two-week visit, Mr. Heller met representatives of both central and district Governments, international organizations 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 Mafeteng, Maseru, Mohale’s Hoek, Mokhotlong, Thaba-Tseka and Quthing.

The Special Rapporteur will submit a full report of his findings and recommendations to the Human Rights Council in September 2019 and will further review progress on the human rights to water and sanitation in Lesotho.

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