Brief Summary Report of Key Issues Raised by Patricia Kameri-Mbote and Shangwa Mavesera at the Presentations for the Launch of the Book “Water Is Life: Women’s Human Rights in National and Local Water Governance in Southern and Eastern Africa”

Presented by Fadzai Mukonoweshuro

Professor Patricia Kameri Mbote - Professor of Law and Dean at the School of Law, University of Nairobi – The right to water and gender equal participation in Southern and eastern Africa

In her presentation, Professor Kameri Mbote emphasizes emerging complexities and contradictions in water governance in Africa. Her context analysis of Africa sets the basis for her arguments, illustrating challenges faced by vulnerable groups including women and children. In accessing their right to water. Only a small percentage of populations in case study countries has access to safe drinking water, with most households depending on water for securing their livelihoods. The risk of conflict arising from shared water sources is heightened by the impacts of climate change which in turn increases vulnerability.

Professor Kameri Mbote questions the impact of donor engagement in water governance and the capacity of African governments to deliver this important right. While legal systems governing water rights are drawn from global laws, with most governments recognizing the right to water through their constitutions, duty bearers are failing to meet this obligation. Professor Kameri Mbote notes that while not homogenous (in terms of class, gender and ethnicity), women spend a considerable amount of time in search of water (amounting to 40 billion hours per day).

Failure to realize the right to water jeopardizes the attainment of other rights. Professor cautions that the discourse on climate change has often taken centre stage at the detriment of the right to water. In conclusion, Professor suggests that in order to improve the prevailing situation where the right to water is not met, “contracting states” need to take seriously their responsibility as duty bearers in ensuring that the right to water is fulfilled. It is equally important that women participate in water governance with development partners demonstrating considered actions that do not worsen the situation for already vulnerable communities. While colonial water management went largely undocumented, the case study countries show similarities on colonial continuities under independent governments.

Though water is canvassed as a human right as well as an economic good, a balance is required between the right to water and sustainable development. In order to fulfil the right to water, policy and legal steps that recognize equitable distribution of water while curbing extreme consumerism and waste are necessary.

Shangwa Mavesera, the town clerk in Bindura – Addressing the economic constraints to the right to water at local level

Mr Mavesera stresses existing realities faced by Local authorities in providing adequate access to water for citizens. Mr Mavesera shares lessons learned on approaches that have worked in Bindura town to ensure that residents have access to adequate water supply. He cites that the first step is to deliberately citizens on shared roles and responsibilities between themselves and the local authority. In his experience, a practical approach that has worked is the establishing strong dialogue platforms and transparency between citizens and local authorities on issue such as targeted tariff setting, community participation in operations and maintenance, efficient water provision and use to reduce service costs.

According to Mr Mavesera, while legal instruments including laws and constitutions are necessary for water governance, their use is limited if residents do not pay for water services. He acknowledges that safety nets are necessary to cushion those that cannot afford to pay for water services and puts responsibility on government to pay for water for the poor (though for instance the empowerment levy). A confrontational approach between local between local authorities and citizens has not worked and has instead increased the cost of providing water.