Zambia: 1000 people’s water supply restored after community demand their human rights

Vision Africa Regional Network
16 Jan 2020

The launch of the Claim Your Water Rights campaign by Vision Africa Regional Network (VAREN) with support from End Water Poverty (EWP) triggered a rural community in Mansa, Zambia, to take action and demand their human rights to water.

Zambia’s constitution and national water policy, as well as international human rights law, obliges the Zambian government to work towards achieving universal access to water and sanitation for all, without discrimination, while prioritising those who are most marginalised.

To mark the campaign’s launch on International Human Rights Day (10 December), we held a press conference in Lunga, an island district in Luapula province where only 30% of people have access to safe water. Following the press conference, the Managing Director for Luapula Water and Sewerage revealed that the African Development Bank had allocated $40 million to support the improvement and expansion of water and sanitation services in the province. He also disclosed that the government is constructing four piped water schemes costing approximately ZMW 9.4 million to benefit 8,000 people by April, 2020.

After hearing about the campaign on Prime TV and three local radio stations, FungaFunga community in Mansa district felt compelled to act. Over 1,000 people had been denied safe water for almost a year after their pump was taken by authorities in January and not restored. The eight boreholes surrounding the community compound dried up due to a broken pipe network, forcing people to depend on rainwater and shallow wells that exposed them to disease. The community contacted us to ask how they could petition their leaders and hold their member of parliament accountable for promises he made relating to reliable access to safe water during Zambia’s 2016 general election and 2019 by-election.

The community arranged a meeting where we informed them of their rights and the government’s responsibility to fulfil those rights. We supported the community to sign a petition and complaints forms to demand their rights. These were then handed over to the local authority responsible for water supply. We also engaged the media to document the area’s water crisis.

When another news report was broadcast on 23 December, Mansa Central’s member of parliament Dr. Chitalu Chilufya, who is the Minister of Health, quickly instructed authorities to restore the water supply within five days. On 1 January, the community celebrated the restoration of their piped water supply.

Lessons learnt:

  • Making WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) a political issue will accelerate progress and allow people to demand their rights.
  • Empowering communities to understand and claim their rights can result in rapid advocacy success.
  • Collaborating with the media is essential for increasing public awareness.
  • Allowing community members to express themselves and vent their frustrations is more effective than speaking on their behalf.
  • Civil society should allow affected communities to drive others to demand their rights.
  • Civil society should be agile and embrace unexpected opportunities.

Next steps:

  • We encourage other communities who live without safe water and sanitation to contact us so we can support you to claim your human rights. We also encourage communities to organise themselves if they already know their rights and how to claim them.
  • We encourage other Zambian civil society organisations working on water and sanitation to join our campaign.
  • We will follow up with the Managing Director for Luapula Water and Sewerage to ensure the $40 million fund from the African Development Bank is released and reaches those without safe water.