Being a socialist revolutionary party, amongst its fight for universal justices, Real Alternative Party is also the vanguard of watershed practices and water justice efforts, hence this article on the Wild – operation of water disconnections of hundreds of thousands of homesteads by Water Utilities Corporation as sanctioned by the heartless and ruthless BDP Government. At the time when global coronavirus pandemic is still vivid, laying bare the extreme vulnerability to those without reliable access to water, sanitation, and hygiene, pandemic neglect to BDP it would seem, is a “necessary nightmare to sacrifice people`s lives”.
By disconnecting people from accessing water, BDP is increasingly losing sight of the needs of citizens that it is even difficult to be optimistic and to create some hope on President Masisi`s espoused transformational reset agenda. Masisi`s leadership is so inconsiderate that it cannot use the COVID-19 pandemic as a mark – step to change its water policy to continue and sustain the promotion of water supply for drinking and sanitation during and post – COVID. Such an action of water shut – offs shows that the BDP is a government that is not serious about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030 Agenda of leaving no one behind. The BDP is particularly off track towards SDG 6 which implores governments to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. It is apparent that the BDP State has gone too reckless and too far considering the COVID-19 pandemic and its unimaginable human health impacts.
Water and sanitation
The COVID- 19 pandemic has opened the doors for talks about hygiene and improved access to water and sanitation to avoid illnesses. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates vividly that water and sanitation are crucial to human health. Doctors and scientists have highlighted regular hand washing with water and soap as a critical defense against the spread of COVID-19 as well for keeping homes and healthcare facilities clean. In this context, providing safe water and sanitation, and ensuring healthy freshwater ecosystems are no longer matters of just basic needs, human rights, or dignity, they are matters of survival for all in preventing the spread of the coronavirus and mitigating against contraction of diseases. Yet, despite the essential need for clean water to cope in the Covid-19 pandemic which is still unfolding, BDP State is unconcerned with consequences of these inadequacies and finds it to be just perfect to disconnect a significant number of Batswana from access to a safe, clean, reliable supply of water in their homes.
Water as a Gender matter
Gender, water and sanitation are deeply interwoven and intersect with women issues, since women and girls are more negatively impacted by lack of sanitation infrastructure. Considering that women are the most common household caregivers, frequently responsible not only for cooking and cleaning, but also for family hygiene, they shoulder disproportionately the burden of household water disconnections by BDP`s water utilities. Disconnecting water in households by water utilities has deprived women and girls access to sanitation facilities that are safe, clean, and private enough to meet their menstrual hygiene management needs. Similar predicament is experienced by persons with disabilities and the elderly. The point is access to water and sanitation for families are not only essential needs in themselves but are also key to the realization of a wide range of other needs, including; bathing, cleaning, food, education and participation.
Right to Clean Water
The Catholic Church teaches that “by its very nature water cannot be treated as just another commodity among many, and it must be used rationally and in solidarity with others. In line with social realities around the world – the Catholic Church has further noted that gender is a major factor in water and sanitation, for it is often women and girls who bear the burden of procuring water when it is scarce. The global Catholic Church is critic of the fact that the 1,000 children die every day due to waterborne illnesses. There is even abundant skepticism in Catholic social teaching on the mechanisms of the free market, especially the tendency to treat water as a commodity. Water according to the Catholic social teaching, must find its basis in human dignity and not in any kind of quantitative assessment that considers water as a merely economic good. Pope Francis at a 2017 Vatican-hosted “Dialogue on Water” exhorted: “Sister water, is not merchandise: it’s a universal symbol and is the source of life and health.” The popes also point out that water is essential to life, and that it should be considered a common good of nature – a good that belongs to all humanity and all living beings.
Indeed, the Catholic Church affirms that water represents the beginning of a Christian’s life. Starting from the Old Testament, throughout the New Testament the Church has recognized that water is an issue of primary importance for human life. This importance is already clearly outlined in the Book of Genesis in which is stated that “Water was there in the beginning”, and in the Exodus, when God shows his almightiness by giving the People of Israel water to drink in the desert. Even when turning to the New Testament, water represents a vital element of the first Sacrament, the baptism, which marks the watershed between the previous life and the life as a Christian.
United Nations Conventions
The Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 24.2(c), explicitly embraces “the provision of …clean drinking water” as crucial to the right to health of children. The UN General Assembly recognizes the human right to water and sanitation, through Resolution 64/292, entitling everyone to acceptable, accessible, affordable, safe, and sufficient water. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) explicitly recognizes the rights of rural women to “enjoy adequate living conditions, particularly in relation to housing, sanitation, electricity and water supply.” The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 has committed countries to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030. It follows from the aforementioned statements, that water is a public good which is fundamental for life and health and for leading a life in human dignity.
BDP’s Irretrievable shift
The fact is this shameful, scandalous and reactionary action by BDP government is as a result of its neoliberal vision which rejects rights claims including the right to a free basic minimum amount of potable water. The BDP politics of now entrenches water in the market – based ideas and language of cost recovery and profitability proliferation. Yet this is a shift away from Sir Seretse Khama`s political principles which were so rooted on ideas of social-justice. During his time of rule Seretse Khama rejected the commodification of water services to citizens. He, Seretse Khama deliberately instituted Department of Water Affairs for the supply of drinking water in homesteads to be paid at affordable reasonable price – rates and pronounced that by having to do so was to make sure that “…at any pointing time no Motswana should be denied access to safe and clean water, even upon and long after my death”. The quote is my own paraphrasing. The point is Seretse Khama wanted national water system to be people-focused and accessible to communities at all levels. Yet instead of having to emulate the founder of their party, the BDP has been deeply transformed as a Neoliberal party engendered in the political economy that subscribes to pushing – up prices of goods and services.
Water and Human Dignity
RAP is concerned that the harshest impacts of the water utilities disconnection falls on those who are already facing the biggest challenges and inequalities such as the low-income earners, informal traders, female headed households, children, the elderly and the disabled persons. Also the disruption to existing water supply services and disconnection of poorer non-paying households exacerbates COVID-19 and increases the risk of other disease outbreaks. Water deprivation increases the chronic stress of children whose families have been disconnected in their school performance. It is against this background that RAP is against shutting-off water without having assessed existing inequalities amongst users and why users are unable to pay.
While water is undoubtedly an economic good, it must also be economically accessible for all. It is absolutely wrong and harmful to subject access to water entirely to market conditions, which are basically geared to profit. Although payment is required for water services, non-payment cannot be the basis for cutting the supply of potable water to defaulting citizens because water is fundamental for human survival and for leading a life in dignity. Moreover, in this global health emergency of Covid-19, access to a reliable supply of clean water is absolutely key to survival. It is thus the position of RAP that water shut-offs amount to a threat to the right to life and right to health which itself includes the right to health care, decent accommodation, and a healthy environment as well as the right to respect for private and family life.
As envisaged in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) which makes the link between the right to water and the enjoyment of health and other human rights including housing i.e. (for “personal and domestic uses” including “drinking, personal sanitation, washing of clothes, food preparation, personal and household hygiene”), RAP is calling on BDP government for the recognition of the right to water and sanitation. Given that clean water is necessary to ‘prevent death and dehydration, to reduce the risk of water-related diseases, and to provide for basic cooking and hygienic requirements’ as emphasized in the ICESCR, RAP is calling on the BDP state to revise with immediate effect its draconian decision of households water disconnections and to reconnect water supplies for households, especially those suffering from loss of income, low-income, poorly served areas and educational facilities. There is also the need to look into the inconsistent, doubtful and suspicious water tariffs as well as ageing, and dilapidated infrastructure for it is our strong view that they could be the most important factors that play a significant role in determining sky rocket water bills and hence leading into unfair disconnections.
RAP further implores the BDP government to adopt an open participatory approach in water management that involves users, planners and policy makers at all levels. Both, men and women should be involved and have equal voices in managing water resources and sharing the benefits that come from sustainable water use. Furthermore as the global pandemic recedes, there is need to continue to strive towards long-term solutions, protecting the most marginalized now, and against future outbreaks. Employment growth and social protection measures for a more health equitable future must be central to BDP government`s transformative shift. The BDP`s post-pandemic economic recovery plans should provide for mechanisms that ensure the affordability of services for all.
RAP also calls for the reframing of Botswana constitution to recognize the human right to water and sanitation outside the neoliberal regime of commodification. The Botswana constitution that is supposedly to be amended must explicitly forgive any water debts for those living in poverty and to those with vulnerable health conditions despite their inability to pay given that default on water payments, is a consequence of larger societal inequality. The new constitution must have provision for a water – ombudsman/ arbitrator to settle disputes on unpaid water bills and to help people to be given fair hearing and support as well as to mitigate on the large disparities in the price of water. RAP indeed agrees with the Catholic perspective that – “Water needs to be given the central place it deserves in the framework of public policy.”
Real Alternative Party