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Scholars ask hard questions on use of water in Africa

Friday November 6 2015

Readers looking for a well-written and

Readers looking for a well-written and researched book on women, water and the law in Africa will not be disappointed with Water is Life. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By Odhiambo Orlale

Title: Water is Life – Women’s Human Rights in National and Water Governance in Southern and Eastern Africa.

Publisher: Weaver Press.

Editors: Anne Hellum,

Patricia Kameri-Mbote and Barbara van Koppen.

Reviewer: Odhiambo Orlale

Readers looking for a well-written and researched book on women, water and the law in Africa will not be disappointed with Water is Life.

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The 620-page book is written by a group of 21 renowned local and international lawyers, sociologists, political scientists and anthropologists using simple language to share their findings in four African countries.

The four countries studied in the 16 chapters are South Africa, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Kenya.

Out of the 16 chapters, four are dedicated to case studies from Kenya and are penned by the Dean of the School of Law, University of Nairobi, Prof Patricia Kameri-Mbote, and four compatriots.

The book is aptly titled: Water is Life – Women’s Human Rights in National and Local Water Governance in Southern and Eastern Africa, and is edited by Prof Kameri-Mbote, Prof Anne Hellum and Barbra Kopen.

In the book, published by Weaver Press, the writers have approached water and sanitation as an African gender and human rights issue and cited empirical case studies from the four countries.

They have explored how women in contexts where they lack secure rights, and participation in water governance institutions, are coping.

The relationship between gender, human rights and water governance is examined through the lens of national and from selected local case studies in rural, peri-urban and urban areas.

The authors note that despite the increasing legal recognition of the right to water and sanitation, states have failed to live up to that obligation in practice.

Access to safe water in Kenya is estimated at 59 per cent while in Malawi and South Africa it stands at 85 per cent. In Zimbabwe, between 1990 and 2008, access to urban water supply decreased from 97 per cent to 60 per cent, while 75 per cent of hand pumps became non functional.

In the Kenyan context, the authors took note of the Kenya Water Act 2002, which made it an offence to construct or employ — without a permit — any works for a purpose for which a permit is required.

Furthermore, the law excludes large segments of the population from water rights by establishing that only land owners can acquire permits.

According to the authors: “In all the above options, women and girls should be fully recognised as users of water for multiple purposes, and as producers who both ensure household food security and market produce for rewarding prices.”

The launch of the book  in Nairobi next week, will coincide with the current debate on climate change, the end of the UN MDGs and the on-going El Nino rains in some parts of the country.

All in all, the authors have done justice to the topic under review and it will add value to debate on climate change, use of scarce natural resources like water, and the link between the precious liquid, gender and the law.

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