Light through the storm: Safeguarding the human right to water in challenging landscapes in Africa

Authors Michael Addaney, Hlengiwe Dube, Samrawit Getaneh

ISSN: 2521-2605
Affiliations: School of Law, Wuhan University; Women Rights Unit, Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria; African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
Source: Journal of Comparative Law in Africa, Volume 5 Issue 1, p. 37 – 72


The poor regulation of water resources, particularly in Africa, has affected the availability of and accessibility to quality water. The international community has, through a soft and controversial approach, recognised the human right to water, which is generally argued to entitle everyone to sufficient, quality, accessible and affordable water for personal and commercial uses. Through a comparative approach, this article discusses the evolving concept of and states’ practice relating to the human right to water in Africa. Using the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe as case studies, it examined the national regulatory frameworks for safeguarding access to quality water for both domestic and commercial use. The article further explores the challenges surrounding the legal protection and realisation of the right to water in the context of mineral resources extraction in the selected African countries. The article discovered obsolete laws and policies and weak institutional design and capacity as the major challenges in protecting the right to water in the selected countries. It therefore contends that while national regulation remains important in promoting and safeguarding the right to water, policymakers should be primarily mindful of its limitations in the face of institutional bottlenecks, implementation gaps and socioeconomic realities. Accordingly, capacity-building initiatives should aim to educate stakeholders in equitable water resources management and, generally, recognise the close link between the right to water, wellbeing and other human rights.