Water is a human right

Michael Jacobs, deputy chairperson, Mitchell’s Plain United Residents’ Association

The Mitchell’s Plain United Residents’ Association (MURA), hereby wishes to express our concerns with regards to the management of the water crisis affecting our communities in the City of Cape Town.

It is very clear that politicians, from the local municipality to national government, are not speaking from the same page and it is of a grave concern (“Politicians play football over water crisis”, Plainsman, February 14).

What we have seen so far is the politicisation of the water crisis which affects how communities see government dealing with this process.

The City of Cape Town, by going on a very negative campaign like Day Zero, is in fact scaring away potential tourists who can boost the local economy and create more jobs.

The continuous uncertainty surrounding the actual Day Zero date shows that politicians themselves don’t know how to deal with this situation.

The political infighting in the City of Cape Town amongst the DA who governs only exacerbates an already critical situation.

This is made worse by the non-committal dissemination of relevant information on the management of the crisis itself as communities are bombarded by the same message time and time again – save water which they are already doing and still being penalised for it.

Extending Day Zero by a few days, weeks or a month does not make for a sound strategic plan and it is only creating further uncertainty.

We also take note of the questions asked by our communities and the increased anxiety created by the non-dissemination of factual information around distribution points.

The United Nations has declared water to be a human right and not a commodity to be privatised or sold for profit.

On July 28 2010, through Resolution 64/292, the United Nations General Assembly explicitly recognised the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realisation of all human rights.

The resolution calls upon states and international organisations to provide financial resources, help capacity-building and technology transfer to help countries, in particular developing countries, to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all.

In November 2002, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted General Comment No. 15 on the right to water. Article I.1 states that: “The human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realisation of other human rights”. Comment No. 15 also defined the right to water as the right of everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable and physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses.

The questions asked by communities are relevant like how will water be provided and would the City or the State provide them with containers.

We note, with disgust, containers distributed in your most affluent areas by certain politicians when it is needed by the most vulnerable and marginalised people as a political ploy.

Within the City of Cape Town you find Mitchell’s Plain, one of the biggest residential areas which is going to need more than one or two water points.

The United Nations very clearly states that water points should be as near as possible for people to collect. In fact, it states that water points should be at least 1 000 metres (1km) from a person’s place of residence. So it is already clear that the City will not be meeting this standard and as communities we must claim our rights.

The United Nations provision also makes it clear that people should not wait longer than 30 minutes to receive their water. So, again, did the City really make provision for enough water points?

Will there be adequate security to maintain law and order around these water points?

Is there a disaster risk plan in place when Day Zero does arrive?

The uncertainty will certainly create panic and conflict among communities and we need to know that matters will be under control.

The public announcement about the guarantees that could not be given around the water quality of the springs in Newlands is uncalled for and irresponsible coming from politicians and officials.

It is Mura’s belief that no community has exclusive rights to our water sources.

The City was aware of the source for a while and should have had contingency plans in place at the source. A private company like SAB cannot exercise control over such a resource.

The United Nations is also very clear on the cost of water to consumers as it should not exceed 3% of household income.

The punitive water measures have disadvantaged large sections of our poor communities who cannot afford such increases and as such the City must be held accountable for its unfair billing practices.

Water is a human right and the punitive measures imposed by the City and the way they are communicating the state of readiness by the City to our communities are unacceptable.

Mitchell’s Plain United Residents’ Association will hold all councillors, the municipality, provincial as well a national government responsible if the crisis is not dealt with adequately.