6 August 2018
Submitted to the
United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Safe Drinking-Water and Sanitation, Leo Heller
Human Rights to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation
About 71% of the earth’s surface is covered with water but water remains one of the scarcest natural resource to humans. Water is a necessity to man for various domestic, agricultural, industrial and commercial purposes. This right is adopted for implementation under SDG 6 of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. It is also implied in the right to health, right to healthy environment, and right to development.
The right to water is however affected by other factors like climate change, drought, pollution, and human factors. Over one billion people lack access to safe drinking water while 2.6 billion others lack access to basic sanitation. As humans, we have the right to enjoy available, acceptable, safe, accessible, sufficient and affordable water and sanitation services and/or facilities.
This paper has been drafted based on desk research and field visits, with general reference to the state of human rights to water and sanitation in Cameroon and with specific case studies from two Regions, the North West Region (NWR) and South West Region (SWR) of Cameroon, in the neighborhoods of Alachu, Botaland and Mile 4.
Components of Safe Drinking-Water
Water should be readily available for man and for his/her uses. It should not be used or distributed disproportionately between people, communities, or business enterprises. There should be equality as to gender, ethnicity, race or social status as far as the use or distribution of water is concerned. The availability of water should not be conditional, for a determined duration or be short-lived. It should regularly be distributed.
Adding to the issue of water, latrines or other forms of facilities to advance public health have to be constructed. These latrines need to be cleaned properly and frequently to keep it and its environment safe from contagious diseases or bacteria. It should not be constructed beside potable water sources which could affect the health of users or passersby.
The safety of water will be tampered with if it is not of acceptable characteristics. To be acceptable is to have a taste, color and odor of consumable quality. Water should not be salty or sweet or bitter or present any component which is unfit for consumption. It should not be colorful or have any smell. This goes a long way to add emphasis on the way water is treated and catered for. Proper water purification products like chlorine and iodine should be used to kill diseases in disregard of other unpopular traditional methods of treatment or processing. Also, the distribution of water should be done in all hygienic ways. The pipes transporting water from the factory should be in good conditions fit for health. Public taps should not be constructed in areas where dirt is dumped or in bushy locations or around latrines.
In order to be safe, consumers must feel comfortable consuming the water without fear of being infected with water-borne diseases. Water should be hygienically treated against all infectious diseases or bacteria.
In Limbe, South West Region, in the neighborhood of Mile 4, women and children often sell in streets, markets, motor parks, and several other areas, without considering their surroundings. Some sell and dish food with water beside trash cans which are stinking, and the surroundings are unkept. Most of these trash cans are hardly disposed of immediately, or within reasonable timeframes. This unhealthy custom of neglecting the environment poses a risk to travelers using motor parks and buying from them, buyers purchasing in markets, or people buying in the streets.
Latrines and other forms of toilets should be in usable conditions which do not present any risk to their users. Local forms of latrines widely used in Cameroon sometimes are dug without proper care. Some collapse after they have been over used. Others are not closed, giving room for dangerous reptiles to enter and inhabit them.
Image A (Mile 4, Limbe) 2018 © Salim Sango
Available, acceptable and safe water should not be found at locations which present a difficulty to access, use or distribute them. Safe drinking water should not be found at very far distances from those who need it or be found at risky locations where there are dangers of enjoying the water. This condition applies to every individual in a vulnerable group like aged and disabled persons, [refugees,] prisoners, women and children. In Cameroon, the number of households connected to public water has raised from 260,000 in 2014 to 421,000 in 2017, making a 61% increase. But several other communities continue depending on water flowing from natural sources. However, these locations are not always catered for or cleaned, and present a high risk to the local population.
In the community of Alachu, Mile 8, Bamenda, North West Region, children of ages 9 and above trek for over 1km (0,6 miles) into bushes to fetch water necessary for their daily activities. Some go along with heavy containers of 10, 20 liters and more, carrying them either on their hands or their heads. They move these distances to get water to cook, drink, bathe and for other purposes.
Image B (Alachu, Bamenda) 2018 © Rabiatou Aliyu N.
Image C (Alachu) 2018 © Rabiatou Aliyu N.
Image D (Alachu) 2018 © Rabiatou Aliyu N.
Image E (Alachu) 2018 © Rabiatou Aliyu N.
Latrines in Cameroon though affordable, are neglected by the population because they are sometimes difficult to locate. Some of the latrines are not properly taken care of and they present health risks to users. Lack of sensitization sometimes causes the population to prefer defecating or urinating in bushes, gutters, or on piles of dirt.
Good drinking-water should equally be sufficient and not limited in supply. Each person is required to use a minimum of 20 liters of water daily in order to meet the most basic water needs. Individuals, communities or business enterprises should not be discriminated upon. Water should be shared proportionately in order to meet these fundamental recommendations.
In Buea (South West Region) like in several communities across the national territory, many families dig wells wherein they fetch water to cook food, for drinking, doing laundry, bathing, and/or other activities. Water can be used for several purposes, including for keeping the environment and our property clean. This is also why it is necessary to have it in sufficient quantity because an unclean environment will have adverse impacts on the quality of water.
Image F (Muea, Buea) Image G 2018 © Salim Sango
Lastly, good and safe drinking-water should be affordable to everyone. The amounts or fees or taxes charged for using, connecting, distributing or repairing water and water sources should not be exorbitant and must conform to the income of a set of individuals or community.
The price for using public toilets in Cameroon is quite affordable, at a cost of 100 FCFA (20 cents) but they are highly underused.
State Obligations and Civic Responsibilities
a) State Obligations
States have the obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the right to water and sanitation. States have to ensure that there is no direct interference with water and sanitation, ensure that there is no pollution, diversion or depletion of water resources, and lastly, they have to punish certain activities and defiant behaviors linked to water and sanitation.
b) Civic Responsibilities
The local population, community and enterprises have a responsibility to respect each water user or consumer without discrimination. They must also ensure that water sources are clean and free from any infectious disease or waste. Enterprises have a duty of care not to pollute watercourses with toxic wastes or any type of waste susceptible to endanger the lives of people and the health of communities.
In Limbe (SWR), in the neighborhood of Botaland village, certain families construct latrines nearby to water in order to dump their wastes easily. They construct external toilets, usually called latrines, and connect it to pipes which end of emptying themselves into water at Downbeach.
Image H (Botaland village, Limbe) 2018 © Salim Sango
Litigating and Advocating for the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation
In cases of violation of the human right to water and sanitation, victims can proceed to claim their right through one of the following many ways:
a) National Remedies
The strategies to employ to claim our rights matter immensely but they should start with lobbying and advocacy in our local communities before local leaders like Chiefs, Mayors, Members of Parliaments or Senators representing the given constituency. Parliamentarians are those individuals who represent national, regional and local authorities. They are a good starting point for any advocacy.
In case of failure of lobbying, it is important to bring the matter before the National Commission for Human Rights and Freedom (NCHRF), which by its mandate is charged with duties to protect the fundamental rights of citizens.
Since the NCHRF is not mandated to file cases on behalf of victims of human rights abuses, victims can file suits before competent courts in the areas where the violations have been committed. The Court of First Instance and the High Court are competent courts to receive and adjudicate matters relating to violations of constitutional rights.
b) Regional and Sub-Regional Remedies
In case of exhaustion of local remedies, victims can approach regional bodies for advocacy or litigation. They can resort to international NGOs to put pressure on the government, or resort to regional bodies like the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights or sub-regional bodies like the ECOWAS Court (for West African States). However, Central Africa does not have a sub-regional court which means that the only regional bodies will be those created by the African Union.
c) International Remedies
There are multiple venues at the international arena. The first is to approach UN Special Rapporteurs on thematic mandates which was established in 2008. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights to Safe Drinking-Water and Sanitation is an independent expert recruited by the Human Rights Council to investigate, observe, report and recommend issues pertaining to his/her field of expertise. Communications can be sent directly to a Special Rapporteur in case of any violation of a human right to water and sanitation.
Adding to this option, we have the treaty-based bodies (e.g. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) which can adjudicate on Communications alleging violations of the right to water and sanitation. Cameroon has not ratified the protocol creating the CESCR and it makes it impossible for justice to prevail before this body.
Another means is to submit a Complaint to the Human Rights Council’s Working Groups on Communications alleging patterns of gross and reliably attested human rights violations.
All these mechanisms of justice for protection of human rights have their modus operandi which must be fulfilled before Complaints or Communications can be received and examined.
The human right to safe-drinking water is so fundamental that everyone should fight for it and once acquired, should protect it. Even though most international conventions do not implicitly state that safe drinking-water and sanitation are human rights, water remains a human necessity and everyone should enjoy such a right by virtue of his/her humanity and dignity.
 USGS, How much water is there on, in, and above the Earth? https://water.usgs.gov/edu/earthhowmuch.html.
 General Comment No. 15 on the Right to Water (Articles 11 and 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) 2002, p 2 para 3.
 Human Rights and Access to Safe Drinking-Water and Sanitation. A/HRC/7/L.16, 20 March 2008, P 2.
 Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque. A/HRC/27/55 of 30 June 2014, p 5 para 13.
 ACHPR, Draft Guidelines on the Right to Water in Africa (2018), p 13 para 12.4.
 WHO, Guidelines for Drinking-Water Quality: Fourth Edition Incorporating the first addendum (2017), p 219.
 Ibid n3, p 14 para 13.2.
 Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review, National report submitted in accordance with paragraph 5 of the annex to resolution 16/21 of the Human Rights Council, A/HRC/WG.6/30/CMR/1, 18 May 2018, p 7 para 35.
 WHO, Guidelines for Drinking-Water Quality, 4th Ed. (2011), p 85.
 Ibid n3, p 6-15 para 17-54.
 Principle 13, Guiding Principle on Business and Human Rights (2011).
 Article 26(2)(d)(5), Cameroon Constitution of 1996.
 Article 2, Law N° 2004/016 of 22 July 2004 on the Creation, Organization and Functioning of the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms.
 Article 25(i), Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).