Right to Water: Challenges to ‘‘Water as a Human Right’’ under International Law in Kenya’s Kibera Slums

After very many years of discussion, the ‘‘right to water’’ was formally recognized by 122 States in a UN General Assembly resolution (United Nations Res A/64/292, 2010). Unfortunately, the right to water resolution is not enforceable unless it is entrenched in national laws. Today, an estimated 3 billion people globally lack access to clean drinking water (WHO, 2014). This is an alarming figure given the importance that water plays in economic development.

Most of those affected come from developing countries. The issue of clean water is important because water access is a cross-border issue that also affects economic growth. Hausmann (2008) argues that given the fact that water supplies naturally cross borders, States have a legal obligation to act in ways that do not hinder the enjoyment of that human right in other States. A clean water solution to begin with, for me, would entail States cleaning their act from within. That will at least ensure some level of clean water access to their internal populations. That way, cross-border water related problems would be mitigated or eliminated with time.

Furthermore, internal access to water in States with unequal distribution of water resources face unique political barriers that worsen the situation for the most impoverished. Economic decisions that prioritize privatization of water resources also have impacted equitable access to the crucial resource of water. In Kenya, clean water scarcity has been an issue for very many decades. Water rationing programs are common even in the capital city of Nairobi. Rapid rural to urban migration and urbanization has pushed many to dwell in slums. In slums such as Kibera in the capital city, over 1.5 million people have no access to clean water.

In rural areas of Kenya, water basins do not reach most areas as piping is unheard of. Kenya's water shortage means a large portion of women and children use over one-third of their day fetching water in the hot sun from the nearest fresh water source. According to the Water Project, (2013) ‘‘this backbreaking work leaves roughly half of the country's inhabitants vulnerable to serious dangers.’’ The water fetched from raw sources exposes a large part of Kenya’s population to waterborne diseases as well as other dangers related to dirty water.

Water being a crucial element in development, more needs to be done to encourage struggling States such as Kenya to adopt a human rights stance in regards to water access. The 2012 Water Bill in Kenya is not enough because it only deals with decentralizing water supply. More can be done by declaring water a human right as well as push county governments to ensure equitable water supplies are available to the poorest of the poor in Kenya.

Kenya has a lot of potential in terms of economic growth. One of the most stagnating factors in its quest to develop, to me, is directly related to poor management of its natural resources – chief among them, water. Shortage of water and other public goods as a result of poor management not only dwindles the economy but also promotes violent conflicts such as those experienced in the 2007
post-elections violence.

To give a needed boost to equitable economic development and reduce poverty-related conflicts, Kenya needs to declare water a human right as well as promote equitable access of that resource to its population

Kibera, Nairobi, an example of lack of basic clean water and sanitation (WASREB, 2013).

E. Moses Umugisha Gashirabake is a Global Shaper in the Montreal Hub of the World Economic Forum. He is also an award-winning youth leader and dual degree (B.C.L. & LL.B.) candidate at McGill University’s Faculty of Law in Canada.

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