Menstruating women’s health compromised by lack of water

22 Nov 2015

These are tough times for Botswana, and the regular water and power cuts have hit families and businesses hard. At home, families live in perpetual fear of disease outbreaks as hygiene is compromised because of the water cuts. The situation is particularly dire for women, whose dignity, privacy and health has been greatly compromised by the lack of water, especially during menstruation.

The situation has attracted the attention of the international community, including the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Leo Heller, who on Tuesday completed an eight day official visit aimed at assessing the situation of human rights to water and sanitation in the country. He said menstrual hygiene management that ensures privacy and human dignity is an important but often forgotten component of the human right to water and sanitation. During a visit to local schools, he found that girls were particularly affected by inadequate water supplies, sanitation and hygiene.

“I discovered that in many schools girls simply do not use the toilet during school time because of poor sanitation facilities. The lack of water has resulted in a disturbing lack of menstrual hygiene management,” said Heller.

He also urged government to use the current drought situation as an opportunity to develop a comprehensive strategy for providing access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

“The country is in an emergency situation where urgent measures are needed to continue providing water especially for those who cannot afford to buy it,” said Heller.

He warned that the severity of the water crisis is envisaged to double by 2020 because of a combination of climate change and an increasing demand for water.

“Botswana would face a catastrophic situation if the current level of water availability continues with no further measures being taken,” he said.

Heller urged government to learn from the crisis situation and place water security as the main driver for its national plans and policies, priority being given to personal or domestic use.

“I also strongly call upon the international community to lend a helping hand where possible, bearing in mind that a lot of African countries are facing a similar situation,” said Heller.

As a long term strategy, neighboring countries have been encouraged to cooperate and promptly come to an agreement regarding the use of trans-boundary water resources. With regards to sanitation, Heller said he found that a significant amount of people particularly in rural areas still practice open defecation. He underlined that Botswana is bound by international human rights laws and principles according to which the state must ensure access to water and adequate sanitation that are easily affordable, acceptable and safe.

 “Botswana is known as a success story of stable economic growth and development. It upholds the core human rights principles of equality and non discrimination in its constitution, other legislation and all policies. I have confidence that the government that has achieved remarkable progress since independence has the capacity to reach all its citizens particularly in rural areas who have not equally benefited from such developments as access to water and sanitation,” said Heller.

At the same time, government has been urged to continue to invest in sanitation and water services to guarantee affordable services for the poor and marginalized. Heller also urged development partners to continuously lend their support financially and otherwise to Botswana.

“The government should really take the current extreme drought as a learning opportunity to develop a comprehensive strategy for providing uninterrupted access to safe drinking water and sanitation in the increasing water crisis,” concluded Heller.These are tough times for Botswana, and the regular water and power cuts have hit families and businesses hard. At home, families live in perpetual fear of disease outbreaks as hygiene is compromised because of the water cuts. The situation is particularly dire for women, whose dignity, privacy and health has been greatly compromised by the lack of water, especially during menstruation.

The situation has attracted the attention of the international community, including the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Leo Heller, who on Tuesday completed an eight day official visit aimed at assessing the situation of human rights to water and sanitation in the country. He said menstrual hygiene management that ensures privacy and human dignity is an important but often forgotten component of the human right to water and sanitation. During a visit to local schools, he found that girls were particularly affected by inadequate water supplies, sanitation and hygiene.

“I discovered that in many schools girls simply do not use the toilet during school time because of poor sanitation facilities. The lack of water has resulted in a disturbing lack of menstrual hygiene management,” said Heller.

He also urged government to use the current drought situation as an opportunity to develop a comprehensive strategy for providing access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

“The country is in an emergency situation where urgent measures are needed to continue providing water especially for those who cannot afford to buy it,” said Heller.

He warned that the severity of the water crisis is envisaged to double by 2020 because of a combination of climate change and an increasing demand for water.

“Botswana would face a catastrophic situation if the current level of water availability continues with no further measures being taken,” he said.

Heller urged government to learn from the crisis situation and place water security as the main driver for its national plans and policies, priority being given to personal or domestic use.

“I also strongly call upon the international community to lend a helping hand where possible, bearing in mind that a lot of African countries are facing a similar situation,” said Heller.

As a long term strategy, neighboring countries have been encouraged to cooperate and promptly come to an agreement regarding the use of trans-boundary water resources. With regards to sanitation, Heller said he found that a significant amount of people particularly in rural areas still practice open defecation. He underlined that Botswana is bound by international human rights laws and principles according to which the state must ensure access to water and adequate sanitation that are easily affordable, acceptable and safe.

 “Botswana is known as a success story of stable economic growth and development. It upholds the core human rights principles of equality and non discrimination in its constitution, other legislation and all policies. I have confidence that the government that has achieved remarkable progress since independence has the capacity to reach all its citizens particularly in rural areas who have not equally benefited from such developments as access to water and sanitation,” said Heller.

At the same time, government has been urged to continue to invest in sanitation and water services to guarantee affordable services for the poor and marginalized. Heller also urged development partners to continuously lend their support financially and otherwise to Botswana.

“The government should really take the current extreme drought as a learning opportunity to develop a comprehensive strategy for providing uninterrupted access to safe drinking water and sanitation in the increasing water crisis,” concluded Heller.