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Submissions to UN Special Rapporteur on water and sanitation

- Joint submission

Four human rights organisations have made a joint submission on the effects of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project on communities' access to water

Survivors of Lesotho Dams (SOLD), the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS), End Water Poverty (EWP) and Oxfam South Africa (OZA) have this week made a follow-up submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation. The groups have detailed the devastating effects of the LHWP on Lesotho’s indigenous and rural communities, including loss of access to vital water sources and potentially widespread displacement.

The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, Mr Pedro Arrojo Agudo (the UNSR), will today (20 October 2022) present a report on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation of people living in impoverished rural areas to the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly.

In preparing that report, the UNSR called for inputs in August 2021. In January 2022, SOLD and partners made a submission to the UNSR. The submission focused on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation of indigenous peoples and people living in rural areas in Lesotho. The submission partners also engaged with the UNSR to further discuss the issues raised in their submission, wherein the UNSR requested that partners provide additional details of observations and concrete experiences that can be included in the report.

The follow-up submission released today sets out these observations and experiences as requested. The submission further expands on the nature and availability of the human right to water in Lesotho, particularly as it relates to indigenous and rural communities.

The submission notes that Lesotho has no constitutional right to water and sanitation, and that implementation of the legislative agenda remains an issue. This is compounded by poor service delivery, lack of legal recognition of indigenous and rural communities’ rights, and a failure to consult the affected communities when undertaking big infrastructure projects. The particular gendered effect of these systemic issues is highlighted. This is all exacerbated by the increasing climate risks, resulting in both longer droughts and more widespread flooding.

The submission further details the particular effect on rural individuals and communities of the ongoing Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) Phase II, which diverts water from Lesotho to South Africa’s economic hub of Gauteng. The LHWP is funded by loans from both multilateral development banks (including the Development Bank of Southern Africa and the African Development Bank), commercial (including Investec) and institutional investors. The LHWP will result in the displacement of many thousands of households, to be relocated away from their historical lands, fields, cemeteries, kraals and family bonds. The timeline for this relocation remains uncertain, and the communities are living in limbo.

It is furthermore apparent that international principles governing business and human rights have not been adhered to in the LHWP. The submission partners insist that these principles – including the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of the affected communities at all levels of the decision-making process – be complied with by all LHWP partners, including the funders.

The submission concludes with recommendations to the UNSR, including that:

  • the Lesotho state enshrine a constitutional right of access to water and sanitation;
  • Lesotho and surrounding states first ensure that Lesotho residents have full access to water and sanitation and appropriate infrastructure, before such resources are directed elsewhere; and
  • the UNSR undertake a country visit to Lesotho to further investigate these issues and provide tangible support to affected persons and communities on the ground.

The rich water resources of Lesotho are being siphoned off without any benefit being accrued for its rural and indigenous communities. This cannot continue.

Invisible rights holders: safe drinking water and sanitation in impoverished rural communities

The UN Special Rapporteur, ONGAWA and End Water Poverty are co-organising a launch of the Rapporteur’s thematic report to the 77th session of the UN General Assembly on “the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation of people living in impoverished rural areas”.

Date: Friday 21 October 2022

Time: 16:00-17:00 CEST/ 10:00-11:00 New York

Platform: Zoom


The session will include a live interview with the Special Rapporteur, highlighting the main findings and recommendations on his report, followed by stories shared by communities across the world:

  • Community based management – Bolivia
  • Women in leadership – Senegal
  • Mining – Peru
  • Mega projects – Laos

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