Water Action Month 2020: #ClaimYourWaterRights

by | Mar 1, 2020 | Blogs

What is Water Action Month?

Water Action Month is an annual campaign held every March. It provides a platform for civil society organisations to raise awareness of the human rights to safe water and sanitation.

What is #ClaimYourWaterRights?

The theme of Water Action Month 2020 is #ClaimYourWaterRights: a global grassroots campaign that will mobilise people to demand their human rights to safe water and sanitation.

Why human rights?

Human rights are the best legal protection we have. As duty-bearers, governments and state-contracted companies are obliged to fulfil people’s human rights. As rights-holders, people have the power to challenge the denial of these rights.

On 28 July 2010, the United Nations recognised safe water and sanitation as human rights. In 2015, 193 countries strengthened their commitment to realising universal access to safe water and sanitation by 2030 when they adopted the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). National governments and regional institutions (i.e. the African Commission on Human and People’s and Human Rights) have enshrined these commitments in policies, laws and constitutions. We have the legal framework – we are just not using it.

What power do people have?

People have the power to take on governments and contracted private companies who do not provide safe, affordable water and sanitation services. The principles of equality and non-discrimination underpin all human rights. Whatever your nationality, wherever you live – whether in prison or on the streets – safe water and sanitation are your human rights.

Why now?

We have just ten years to achieve universal access to water and sanitation (SDG 6). We have no time for false promises. We need urgent financing and delivery of services. Around 2.2 billion people lack safe water, while 4.2 billion people lack safe toilets. This is not an inconvenience; it is a grotesque injustice.

End Water Poverty

How can people claim their right to water and sanitation?

People can directly claim their water rights by lodging complaints of human rights violations to National Human Rights Institutes.

What are National Human Rights Institutes?

National Human Rights Institutes (NHRI) – also called National Human Rights Commissions/Committees/Councils/Ombudsman – are responsible for holding governments and contracted companies accountable for providing water and sanitation services that meet human rights standards. They are the most accessible institutions marginalised groups can rely upon for justice.

How can I find my country’s national human rights institution?

Most countries where our members work have a national human rights institution. You can find the contact details of your NHRI here.

Independent experts regularly review national human rights institutions to determine their effectiveness. You can find your institution’s rating here.

Though the decision to engage these institutions is ultimately at your discretion, we strongly recommend that organisations only lodge complaints if they work in countries with ‘A’ graded human rights institutions. In countries with repressive regimes, we encourage collective complaints to avoid exposing individuals to unnecessary risk.

How can people submit complaints to NHRIs?

Lodging complaints is easy and usually free. Complaint forms are often accessible online. Those without internet access can visit an NHRI office, which operate at provincial, regional or district level, to submit a written complaint.

What is End Water Poverty’s role?

End Water Poverty will train its coalition members so they can help people claim their rights:

  • We will deliver human rights and media training through webinars and workshops.
  • We will develop national ‘how to’ guides for engaging human rights institutions.
  • We will organise peer-to-peer learning so organisations with limited human rights knowledge can learn from the example and expertise of others.
  • We will provide press release templates to send to local and national media. The templates can be adapted and translated into local languages.
  • We will create communications materials including tweet sheets, graphics, blogs etc.
  • In some countries, we can help educate NHRIs, judges, utility providers and government officials on the human rights to water and sanitation through training sessions and lobby meetings.

How can civil society support people to claim their rights to safe water and sanitation?

Organisations that have received human rights training and committed to participate in #ClaimYourWaterRights should do the following:

1. Identify communities whose rights have been violated and the specific water or sanitation issue affecting them (i.e. is this an issue of: accessibility, availability, affordability, acceptability or safety & quality?).

2. Explain how they can claim their rights to safe water and sanitation.

3. Support or accompany the community to lodge complaints to the NHRI.

4. Publicise the complaints on social media and encourage people to share complaint forms using the #ClaimYourWaterRights hashtag.

5. Engage journalists by organising press conferences, sending press releases, inviting them to affected communities and organising interviews.

6. Organise demonstrations or occupy service providers’ facilities to raise public awareness.

7. If you receive no response after a month, write to your NHRI or visit their office to remind them of the complaints. Keep following-up until the NHRI submits its recommendation to the government or contracted company.

8. Publicise the NHRI’s recommendations on social media and share with journalists.

9. If the government or contracted company fails to act on the recommendations, organise a press conference or a meeting with your NHRI to highlight their inaction.

What happens next?

Should the government fail to implement the NHRI’s recommendations, most human rights commissions can proceed to court to seek justice.

Who pays the court bill?

The human rights institute covers all legal costs. There is no cost to the complainant.

Are there other ways people can claim their rights to water and sanitation?

In some countries, it will be more effective to lodge complaints directly to parliamentarians or water and environmental regulators.

Who are water/environmental regulators?

Water utility regulators are independent governmental agencies. They have the power to set tariffs (restrictions) on how much private water companies can charge. They can also settle disputes between people and private providers. Not all countries have water regulators.

Environmental regulators have the power to sanction companies and individuals who have polluted people’s water. Not all countries have environmental regulators.

Are there other ways to get involved in the campaign?

Yes. If ‘lodging complaints’ seems too strong, you could ‘express concern’ by sending a petition to governors, ministers and speakers at provincial assemblies. We also encourage civil society – particularly youth organisations – to organise demonstrations, marches or strikes.

Any more questions?

Please contact [email protected]. We are happy to answer any questions.