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Sunday, February 5, 2023

UN expresses unease over Lagos’ water privatisation venture

The United Nations has expressed concern over the Lagos State Government’s renewed plans to privatise parts of its water system despite widespread public opposition.

Tunji Bello
Tunji Bello, Lagos State Commissioner for The Environment & Water Resources

In a letter sent to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu on January 15, 2020 which only came to light last week, the UN cautioned against the privatisation plans which, it said, would have negative impacts on the human rights of lower income Lagosians.

The correspondence, which the Lagos government is reportedly yet to acknowledge, was signed by the trio of Philip Alston – Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights (whose tenure just ended), Leilani Farha – Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context, and Leo Heller – Special Rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation.

They listed privatisation of water services and lack of transparency and public participation among the key factors that make water unavailable for the largest segment of Lagos population.

“As Lagos continues to grow, residents’ access to water and sanitation is worsening. Current estimates suggest that only 10% of the population has access to water supplied by the Lagos Water Corporation (LWC)..Rather than seek to implement a combination of improved policies that would ensure adequate access to water for all, the state government has focused only on the possibilities flowing from privatisation, through public private partnerships,” the letter reads.

It adds: “Despite the urging of many civil society groups, the government has failed to ensure their right to participate in the relevant decision-making process concerning water supply.”

The UN special rapporteurs listed several efforts they made to seek information about the plans of the Lagos government which were not acknowledged, including the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe water’s December 22, 2016 expression of fear on the vulnerability which many millions of Lagos people are exposed to due to the water crisis.

They said they are deeply concerned about the impact the planned forms of privatisation will have on the enjoyment by all of the human right to water, especially for lower income communities.

They also demanded among others:

  • Measures Governor Sanwo-Olu’s government has taken to ensure that the principles of meaningful participation, transparency and access to information are respected in terms of planning for provision of water to all residents of Lagos.
  • Undertaking of human rights impact assessment of the LWC’s Strategic Business Plan 2019-2024 including impact of the principles of equality and non-discrimination and the human rights to water and sanitation.
  • Overview of proposed privatisation and PPP projects planned for the water sector in Lagos.

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