Water rights in the Sahara Desert?
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CTA. 2001. Water rights in the Sahara Desert?. Rural Radio Resource Pack 01/2. Wageningen, The Netherlands: CTA.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/57397
Virginia Roaf of WaterAid describing some of the key issues raised by the right to water.
Water rights in the Sahara Desert? CUE: What does it mean to have the right to water? Can a statement on water rights in a constitution achieve anything? And is it meaningful to tell people living in a dry area that they have a right to, for example, 20 litres of water per day, when that water may simply not exist? Virginia Roaf works for WaterAid, an international NGO that aims to improve the access of poor people to water and sanitation. Mike Davison went to the WaterAid office in London, and started by asking how useful she thought it was to give someone a right to water. IN: ?The question of the right? OUT: ?coming from the local communities? DUR?N 5?08 BACK ANNOUNCEMENT: Virginia Roaf of WaterAid describing some of the key issues raised by the right to water. Transcript Roaf The question of the right to water is actually not as simple as it sounds. Everyone would agree that the right to water is a good right, it should be in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. But you also have to look at what is meant by the right to water, how much water, for whom, how clean is that water going to be? One of the problems of introducing a right to water is setting the standards that go with that. For example they might decide that everyone has a right to 20 litres per person per day. Now that?s obviously not going to be accessible to those people living in villages in rural areas, in the middle of the Sahara Desert for example, because that water is just not accessible; there isn?t that water in the ground. So setting a right to water which has unrealistic standards, you may actually find that the right to water works against the needs of the poorest. Maybe I can explain this best by looking at the right to housing. In South Africa the right to housing is enshrined in the constitution but along with that right to housing is also a long list of standards that are required to be met by that housing. For example they are to do with what the walls are to be made of, what the roof is to be made of. Now that?s obviously unaffordable to the poor who are presently living in shacks and in over crowded conditions. So while it?s a very good thing for the right to housing to be enshrined in the constitution it?s actually not accessible. Davison So having that right to housing you would say is meaningless? Roaf I think often it can be meaningless unless you?ve got a government that?s committed to creating the framework or the policies that will actually be able to deliver that housing. Davison And if we were to carry that on to the example of the village in the Sahara Desert having a right to water, would you regard it in the same way? Roaf Yes, I would say that rather than setting the standards for the right to water here in Britain or through the UN, I think it?s important to include local communities from poor areas, from developing countries, to ensure that the standards are not inaccessible. Davison Do you think that if a country adds a statement on the right to water to its constitution, that is likely to help the poorer people who currently don?t have access to water? Roaf I think that in some cases that will strengthen the poor community?s hand. I think it depends on whether the poor community is well organised and whether they know that they have the right to water. I think however that generally these rights that stand in the constitution become just words on a piece of paper and that they are actually more likely to protect the rights of the middle income people or the people in power than they are to protect the rights of the poor. Davison Can you explain what you mean by that? Roaf In Dhaka in Bangladesh a vast proportion of the population live in illegal settlements which they don?t have the rights to. It could be because it?s along the river bank or it?s on pavements or it?s on land which is ear-marked for other purposes, and the government is not willing to give land rights. There?s a community in an area called Tejganj where the people are living on a pavement adjacent to the factory where they are working. And they?ve been living there for maybe 25 or 30 years without access to adequate water and sanitation and the reason for that is the government is not prepared to provide water and sanitation to that community because they lack land title. So what WaterAid has done is actually to work with the community and they have negotiated with the local council, for the local council to give the community a 5 year, a short term lease, which will then allow the municipal supplier to actually provide water and sanitation. Interestingly this has caused a problem with the middle income community which lives opposite. The middle class community has decided that this is a threat to them and persuaded the local municipality to evict the community. Within a week the community were back living in that area because they had nowhere else to go. So they are actually now living in that area again and they are still obviously working in the factory. Davison So that suggests that often when you get water rights you may well have a situation of conflict between two different groups? Roaf There?s always going to be conflict over resources which are limited. The water supply in Dhaka probably reaches maybe 25% of the population but obviously that?s going to be going to the richer parts of that community. And so if the middle class community see that the water is now being accessed by poorer communities obviously there?s going to be less water to go around. Davison To me water rights would seem to be quite a western concept. To what extent do you think that the communities that WaterAid is working with feel that they have a right to water? Roaf I think that the people living in Dhaka in Bangladesh through the work that they?ve been doing in accessing their right to land has actually introduced ideas of rights of water to those communities. Davison So the increasing awareness of water rights has come through increasing awareness and interest in land rights? Roaf I would say that there is more interest now in water rights, yes, because there?s been interest in land rights and the demand is coming from the local communities. End of tape.