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EWP, SOLD and FANMex make joint submission on the human rights of indigenous and rural communities

by | Jan 20, 2022 | News

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On 20 January 2022 End Water Poverty (EWP), Survivors of Lesotho Dams (“SOLD”) and The Freshwater Action Network Mexico (FANMex) made a joint submission to the United Nations Special Rapporteur Pedro Arrojo Agudo on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation of indigenous peoples and people living in rural areas.

The submission comprised English and Spanish questionnaire responses from SOLD and FANMex as well as a concluding summary and recommendations. It was compiled and edited by EWP and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS). It was endorsed by the African Forum and Network on Debt and Development (AFRODAD) and Oxfam South Africa.

The submission detailed the human rights violations experienced by both rural and indigenous communities. In Lesotho, rural and indigenous people live in remote areas where the climate is harsh with both flooding and droughts. Communities typically self-access water and sanitation due to a lack of formal infrastructure with people defecating in the open and walking up to 5 km to collect water from rivers, dams, lakes and other unprotected sources.

In Mexico, rural and indigenous people have historically been relegated to high mountainous areas, which are more vulnerable to hydro-meteorological hazards. Communities similarly self-access water from nearby springs. However, marginalisation, poverty, organised crime and the presence of national and international mining companies have led to illegal logging, water grabbing, the disappearance of springs and increased pressure on water sources.

SOLD and FANMex identified a number of key issues obstructing the full realisation of people’s rights, including:

  • Lack of legal recognition
  • Severe funding cuts
  • Inaccurate information and inadequate monitoring
  • A dearth of community participation
  • Ineffective accountability mechanisms
  • Failure to implement policy and legal frameworks
  • Weak government responses to Covid 19
  • Threats and persecution of human rights defenders

The submission concluded by offering several recommendations to governments and international development actors. As well as exercising a 2007 policy stipulating that communities must receive a minimum of 30 litres of free basic water a day, SOLD called for the human rights to water and sanitation to be enshrined in Lesotho’s constitution along with clear public participation processes. SOLD further recommended that, given the detrimental effects large infrastructure development and inter-country water transfers have had on communities, water should only be redirected to neighbouring countries once residents’ rights have been guaranteed. In addition, infrastructure built for such purposes should not traverse communal lands nor necessitate the uprooting of rural and/or indigenous communities. Communities who are adversely affected – such as in the case of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project – must be appropriately compensated.

Among other proposals, FANMex recommended implementing redress measures for industries who contravene regulatory standards and investing in better disaggregated data to more easily identify communities whose rights are violated. Both FANMex and SOLD noted that water and sanitation projects involving indigenous and rural communities must foster transparency, accountability and meaningful engagement in decision-making processes.

Click here to read our joint submission, which summarises the key issues identified by SOLD and FANMex as well as recommendations. Click here to read SOLD and FANMex’s questionnaire responses in full.