by Khonani Ontebetse
Sunday Standard 08-06-2014
Botswana has drawn the attention of international human rights organizations and the United Nations, after it was recently classified, together with other war torn states in Africa and the Middle East, as one of the few countries that use water as a weapon of war.
Former United Nations (UN) advisor on water, Maude Barlow, recently condemned the Government of Botswana for failing to protect Basarwa living in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) against international companies that are practicing fracking in their ancestral land.
Barlow was commenting on reports that the UN is trying to help resolve the controversy surrounding the use of water as a weapon of war in ongoing conflicts. Botswana was the only country in Southern Africa cited among countries that use water as a weapon in ongoing conflicts. Other countries were in the Middle East and Africa, including Iraq, Egypt, and Israel, where water supplies to occupied territories have been shut off.
Barlow said water is being increasingly and deliberately used a weapon of war in recent and ongoing conflicts. She also raised alarm about on-going large scale fracking in Botswana.
“While it has been a victory for Basarwa to win their court case, I fear they face a new threat, the threat of shale gas fracking. Large scale ?fracking exploration is now taking place in the Kalahari and it puts the precious water supplies there in grave danger. Once again, the indigenous dwellers of the desert pay the price for modern consumerism,” said Barlow in response to a questionnaire from Sunday Standard.
Barlow said a number of years ago, the Festus Mogae led administration tried to displace Basarwa from their traditional homeland, but when many insisted on coming back to the desert, government smashed their water borehole in an effort to force them back to the settlements.
“They took the government to court but only won the right to have their water returned after the United Nations formally recognized the human right to water and Basarwa successfully used this process to regain access to water,” she said.
According to Barlow, water should never have been used as a weapon against Basarwa in the first place.
“Many around the world were shocked and demanded that this should never happen again. Water is now a fundamental human right and to use it as a weapon is a violation of that right,” she said.
Asked if the use of water as a weapon of war in ongoing conflicts was effective, Barlow said it was. She gave an example of the Syrian government, which used water as a weapon against rebels and weakened them by cutting off their water supply.
However, Barlow warned that using water in this way is abhorrent and usually backfires against the perpetrator.
“People see the terrible toll lack of water takes on the young, the old and the sick. This action crosses a boundary most of humanity will not dare to cross,” she said.
While she admitted that there is no international agency that can force a government to stop abusing human rights, Barlow said there is a Special Rapporteur on the human right to water and sanitation who is able to collect evidence and publicly call on governments to stop these kinds of abuses.
“All governments are now bound by recognition of the human right to water, and if they ignore this right they will be exposed as abusive,” said Barlow, who is currently National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians and the board of Washington-based Food and Water Watch.
She also revealed that Survival International, which has stood by Basarwa throughout their ordeal, together other organizations like the Blue Planet Project and Food and Water Watch, are watching the situation closely.
“We stand in solidarity with Basarwa and their human right to live in their ancestral lands. They also have a right to water for life – just like all of us around the world,” said Barlow.