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Anti-riot police fired multiple teargas canisters to break up a peaceful protest urging clean and free water in Bangladesh, an informal settlement in Jomvu, Mombasa.

The residents of Bangladesh took to the streets on August 11 to peacefully protest and demand Mombasa County to end water scarcity, which has persisted for at least four years and counting.

Instead, they got served with stinging teargas, and not water, a commodity whose access United Nations (UN) says is a fundamental human right.

Lack of access to safe, sufficient, and affordable water damages the health, dignity, and prosperity of billions of people worldwide, the UN says. The covid-19 pandemic has worsened this condition in Bangladesh.

Mombasa county has not implemented its Sh16 billion desalination plants project due to a lack of a letter of comfort. It is a financial document indicating a willingness to support a subsidiary company to meet its financial obligation. The project would have covered the 130,000 cubic meters shortage the county faces daily. The county had in 2018 awarded Almar Water Solutions of Spain and Switzerland’s Aqua Swiss tender to construct the two plants.

Human rights treaties

Bangladesh problem replicates across the Coast, especially in Tana River. Some 12,000 people in Bura and Galole are risking their lives digging dangerous wells that are running dry. Locals say people have died while drawing water, which is not clean, safe, or adequate.

Kenya ratified a regional human rights treaty—the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child—which demands adequate nutrition and safe drinking water.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, also ratified by Kenya, says safe drinking water and sanitation is a human right derived from the right to an adequate standard of living. The conditions in Bangladesh are poor.

Article 43 of the Kenyan Constitution requires Bangladesh residents and every person within the borders have the right to clean and safe water in adequate quantities. Protesters said what is available is sold at Sh30 per jerrycan, a hefty premium because all live under a dollar a day, yet they need at least 100 litres daily.

A Bangladesh resident during a peaceful protest urging clean and free water. Photo: Ernest Cornel.

Bangladesh residents live under a dollar a day, yet they need at least 100 litres daily, with a jerrycan costing Sh30. Photo: Ernest Cornel.

Kenyan police often violate the right to freedom of expression and assembly, guaranteed under the constitution. Photo: Ernest Cornel.

Water privatization in Bangladesh has meant that locals are not connected to clean water, protesters said, and it is unclear how deep the private interests run into the system. A philanthropist who used to give free water got kicked out recently, they added, because he was “eating into their profits”.

Article 56 of the Constitution requires the government to place affirmative action programs for minorities and marginalized groups to have reasonable access to water, health services and infrastructure.

MUHURI covered the Bangladesh protest to amplify the concerns of the residents. Police broke it up violently. Kenyan police often violate the right to freedom of expression and assembly, guaranteed under Chapters 33 and 37 of the Constitution, respectively, when they disrupt peaceful demonstrations.

According to Article 19 Eastern Africa, 152 protests occurred between January 2018 and July 2019 in Kenya. The organization said security officials used force in 31 cases, including 18 in which no one appeared to engage in violence. Police mostly use tear gas and live ammunition.

MUHURI covered the Bangladesh protest to amplify the concerns of the residents. Photo: Ernest Cornel.