Dushanbe, 12 August 2015
From 4-12 August 2015, I conducted an official country visit to Tajikistan, aiming to assess the situation of the human rights to water and sanitation in the country.
I would like to begin by thanking the Government of the Republic of Tajikistan for the invitation to visit the country. During the mission I met with Minister of Foreign Affairs, H.E. Mr. Aslov Sirodjidin Muhridinovich, and other government and local authorities, Speaker for the Parliament, the Ombudsman for human rights, the Housing Communal Service (the Khojagii Manizliyu Kommunali (KMK)), Dushanbe Vodokanal, civil society organizations and the international community. I visited prison YC 3/7. I also visited communities in Teppai Samarkandi and Balkhi village (Rudaki district), Lolazor village (Danghara district), Pulisangin village (Norak district) and Spitamen new settlement and Andarsoi village (Spitamen district). I talked to community leaders, human rights defenders, women, children and medical practitioners. I am grateful to everyone who assisted me in better understanding the progress made and the outstanding challenges in realizing the human rights to water and sanitation for all in Tajikistan. I would like to also thank the UN Country Team for their support to this mission.
The situation of access to water and sanitation
Tajikistan has rich water resources – one of the richest in the world.
Tajikistan is expected to achieve impressively high rates of access to improved water sources of 74 percent and of access to improved sanitation of 95 percent by the end of 2015 under the monitoring of the Millennium Development Goals. Tajikistan has also eradicated open defecation. However, when we break down these figures into the quality of services, approximately 40 percent of the population (nearly half of the rural population) rely on non-centralized water supply sources such as spring, wells, irrigation canals and water trucks, which often do not meet the water quality standards and provide insufficient amounts of water. Even in water sources used for the centralized system, the majority of water supply systems do not meet sanitary requirements. Regarding sanitation, over 90 percent of the rural population are estimated to use pit latrine with slab. Only 15 percent of the population enjoy access to sewer connection (44 percent in cities and 3 percent or much less in villages), and even where the sewerage is available, part of the greywater is discharged in open drains directly. Wastewater treatment facilities are available in cities, including an advanced one in Dushanbe.
These averages also mask inequalities that persist between rural and urban areas. In the former, access to piped water on premises is at 31 percent while in urban areas it reaches 83 percent. The data does not capture marginalized groups of people such as refugees, asylum seekers and stateless people.
While people culturally keep houses clean, good hygiene practices are not well observed. According to a rapid assessment conducted in 3 districts (Rasht, Isfara, and Kulob) in 2014, on average only 2 percent of the sampled women wash hands with soap at four critical moments (after using the toilet; before cooking; after cleaning the child; and before feeding the child).
The human rights to water and sanitation
The Government of Tajikistan has ratified relevant international human rights treaties including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the rights of the Child and therefore it has legal obligations to take concrete and deliberate steps to ensure the progressive realization of the human rights to water and sanitation, using the maximum available resources. This means that every individual in the country is entitled to, having the authorities take measures to ensure, as soon as possible, access to water and adequate sanitation that are accessible, available, affordable, acceptable and safe in all spheres of life. The realization of these rights also requires ensuring access to adequate and affordable hygiene practices, including hand washing and menstrual hygiene management. Effective measures have to be taken in order to ensure an adequate disposal and treatment of human wastes. Furthermore, the State has an obligation to progressively eliminate any types of inequalities in access to water and sanitation.
Tajikistan is currently carrying out water sector reform and the Water Code of 2000 is also under a revision. Tajikistan is at a critical moment because a clear legislation and institutional structures are an important first step for realizing the human rights to water and sanitation. I was encouraged by the openness shown by both the Government and the Parliament to emphasize the need to place the human rights to water and sanitation at the centre of a new policy and legislation.
Let me now address some of the outstanding challenges I observed from a human rights perspective:
Quality of water and sanitation services
Under the Ministry of Health, the Sanitary Epidemiological Surveillance laboratories located in every district monitors the quality of drinking water as well as the hygienic standards of water services provided by suppliers. According to the official information received, some of the samples still do not meet the State water quality standard set in 2007. Most of the people I interviewed said they did not drink water without treatment or feel that water for drinking was not safe. I myself observed cases of brown water in cities. Monitoring of water quality in particular of non-centralized water sources is still limited (no more than 15 percent of water from non-centralized systems is monitored). The water suppliers also have self-monitoring of water quality, but they are not obliged to report the results to any authorities.
Sanitation, except for those who are connected to sewerage in part of large cities, is almost entirely put on the shoulders of individual households. The vast majority of the population construct pit latrines and empty or replace them without any financial support from the Government. Although prices for emptying pits have to be approved by the Antimonopoly Agency, and the service is provided by the KMK, people are expected to pay high, and sometimes unaffordable, prices for it. I was impressed by the well-constructed and clean pit latrines in many households, and pit latrines with slabs could be an acceptable solution if they follow certain standards including the protection of groundwater. However, currently, there seems to be no adequate support from the Government to provide aguidance regarding latrine construction and sludge management.
Due to these deficiencies in water, sanitation and hygiene, waterborne pathogens, such as those causing diarrhoea and typhoid fever, are still widespread, in particular in rural areas. High rates of early child mortality and child malnutrition compared to the other countries in Central Asia may be partly attributable to poor water, sanitation and hygiene.
WASH in public institutions
- Health facilities
I was informed by the Ministry of Health that the State budget allocated to the health sector is insufficient to ensure water and sanitation services in all the health facilities in the country. In a primary health care facility I visited, there was a water tap but it was not connected to water. Absence of running water supply and adequate sanitation facilities in majority of the hospitals in the country not only discourages the health service utilization by the population but also presents great challenges in terms of infection prevention and control and hygiene promotion.
Water, sanitation and hygiene in schools are also a challenge. Many schools have very old water and sanitation facilities but many of them are not functioning or do not meet the hygiene standards. In a school with 1,400 children in a village I visited, there were only 4 toilets each available for girls and boys. While Tajikistan achieved a high school enrolment rate, a significant number of girls drop out at 9-10th grade. Poor sanitation facilities including the absence of menstrual hygiene management may contribute to this high drop-out rate. Menstrual hygiene management that ensures privacy and human dignity is an important but often forgotten component of human rights to water and sanitation.
Marginalized and excluded persons
- People living in rural areas
It is worth mentioning that the vast majority of the population (over 70 percent) live in rural areas. As mentioned above, the majority of the rural population are not connected to the centralized water supply and they use and manage pit latrines entirely by themselves. Drinking water and sanitation issues in rural areas seem to be overshadowed by the Government’s concentrated efforts on irrigation water. In addition to the burden of collecting water and managing latrines, which are usually put on women and children’s shoulders, I observed that people in rural areas, who are often poorer, pay much more to secure water than those who are connected. The more remote from the district centre they live, the higher prices they are charged for the sludge collection service too. The Government cannot abdicate its responsibilities in dealing with rural sanitation and water supply.
- Resettled people
I met with communities in Rudaki and Khatlon districts who were displaced from Rogun and Nurabod districts because of the Rogun Dam project. While the Government recently makes efforts to provide water to the settlements, due to the lack of planning, people still suffer from insufficient amount of water for human consumption and for subsistence farming. People I met raised concerns that they do not have enough water to grow vegetables in their yard while they had enough water for vegetation and livestock in their original village, which is making their life harder. In Spitamen new settlement, people have no access to water supply and buy water from water trucks, which is not sufficient, unsafe and unaffordable. People chose this settlement because of the potentiality of groundwater extraction, but had not been informed of enormous costs to pump water from the aquifer.
- Refugees, asylum seekers and Stateless people
There are about 2,000 refugees and asylum seekers in the country. They are not allowed to live in large cities, and this means that they are excluded from access to the centralized water supply and sanitation services. There are approximately 10,000 stateless persons and persons in risk of statelessness who are not entitled to social protection. The Government must ensure equal access to water and sanitation for everybody.
Balancing affordability and sustainability
The price of water and sanitation and the direct and indirect costs and charges associated with securing drinking water and sanitation must not compromise or threaten people’s capacity to satisfy other human rights such as the right to food, health, housing and education. In many parts of Tajikistan, the water tariff for those connected to centralized systems, sometimes water and sanitation tariff, is a flat rate of 0.7 to 1.4 TJS (0.1 to 0.2 USD) per person per month (up to 1 USD per household of five family members). Only in large cities, the installation of water meters has started and the tariff is charged according to the amount of consumption (0.42 TJS per cubic metre for water and 0.53 TJS for water and sewerage by Dushanbe Vodokanal; 0.8 TJS for water by KMK). The flat tariff without metres does not give users incentives to save water, and some use drinking water for farming, irrigation or other non-domestic activities. The water tariff set by KMK for state-owned enterprises is almost the same with the tariff for domestic users (1 TJS per cubic metre). The water tariff for private industrial use is also relatively low (2 TJS per cubic metre).
From a human rights perspective, the low flat-tariffs applied in most situations raise a couple of concerns: 1) People and enterprises who can afford to pay a higher tariff are subsidized by these low tariffs. This means people who are not connected to the centralized system, who are usually worse-off, not only lack necessary assistance from the Government to realize their human rights to water and sanitation but also may indirectly subsidize the rich through taxes. For example, I observed that people in rural areas pay more than double for an informal system for less reliable and less accessible water. 2) This situation also raises concern that the utilities do not collect enough revenue to invest in operation and maintenance or to expand the connection networks to those who are not served. KMK told me that their debts are accumulating and they have no funds to invest in repairs or improvement of the system.
Sustainability is a fundamental human rights principle essential for realizing the human rights to water and sanitation. Once services and facilities have been improved, the positive change must be maintained and slippages or retrogression must be avoided. During my mission, I observed that many infrastructures installed during the Soviet period have not been maintained or refurbished, and some people are experiencing deterioration of water and sanitation services.
With international donors’ support, the Government began a revision of the policy for water tariffs. Tariffs must be set to balance the affordability of water and sanitation for all and sustainability of the services. A new tariff system should consider a way to charge better-off households and other users to pay higher tariffs, while poorer households should be guaranteed a lower tariff and access to subsidy mechanisms. I call on the Government to adopt a comprehensive water and sanitation tariffs’ policy, which ensures sustainability and takes into account the special needs of the poor.
Legal frameworks, policies and budgeting
The human rights to water and sanitation need to be translated into laws, policies, and budgeting.
The Constitution of the Republic of Tajikistan has provisions related to human rights including the rights to life, to the dignity and to housing, though does not explicitly recognize the human rights to water and sanitation.
The Water Code (2000) is the principal legal instrument on water, but does not sufficiently deal with water supply and sanitation issues. A revision of the Water Code is due to follow. The new Water Code should explicitly recognize the human rights to water and sanitation and place them front and centre.
Tajikistan is currently carrying out a water sector reform process. The main objectives of the reform are to ensure the clear institutional separation between the role of policy and regulation and the one of provision of water and sanitation services, and to implement the transition to river basin management. The Government anticipates that a new programme on water sector reform for 2016-2025 will be approved by the end of this year.
Currently the division of power and responsibilities between the Ministry of Energy and Water Resources, the Housing Communal Service (KMK) and local authorities is not clear. There is no regulation in cities provided by vodokanals. Under the reform, it will be particularly important that regulation becomes independent and separate from the provision.
Under the current framework, there is no appropriate government structure to address access to water and sanitation in rural areas either. The Government should not be absent in the management of individual or small-scale water and sanitation solutions. For water, the Government makes some regulation efforts including the standard settings and monitoring of water quality, but the vast majority of sanitation solutions are not regulated, managed or monitored by any state body. In the current water sector reform, the Government should assign specific responsibilities of expanding water supply and regulating and managing water and sanitation of those who are outside of formal system as short to medium terms.
The Government informed me that it holds National Policy Dialogue on Water twice a year with civil society organizations and international communities, and that water sector reform has been discussed in that platform. It is an encouraging initiative, and the Government should strengthen such efforts to provide an open space for civil society and in particular women to meaningfully participate in the reform process in order to address people’s real needs.
I was surprised by the small proportion of the State budget allocated to water and sanitation. Less than 0.2 percent of the State budget (4.1 million USD) goes to KMK who is responsible not only for water and sanitation but also for housing, cleaning streets and other communal service. This budget also covers the cost of water and sanitation services that KMK provides to public institutions. Another 1.7 percent (36 million USD) is allocated to the local authorities who, among many other things, are also responsible for overall water supply and sanitation. While depending on the allocation of budget by the local administrations, the amount of budget allocated for water supply and sanitation is almost invisible.
The national and local budgets must have specific allocations or budget lines for water, sanitation and hygiene for households and public institutions. The Government also has to prioritize those who are un- or under-served.
The benefits of investing in water and sanitation are evident in improved health and saving work losses. Such investment averts illnesses such as diarrhoea, reducing child mortality and malnutrition, and increasing adults’ productivity and children’s attendance, especially that of girls, at school. For each USD invested in achieving universal access to basic sanitation at home, the estimated benefit is 3 USD.
Access to information and accountability
Information on water bills and water quality should be explained better to the population. I heard complaints about non-transparent and unreliable procedures of collecting tariffs. Access to such information is a human right but this will also encourage the population to contribute to the running of water supply systems. There is currently no established complaint mechanism partly because of the absence of an independent regulator and partly because of the current unclear division of responsibilities. Several people told me how complicated it is to find out who to call when users have problems with water or sanitation services. The Government should make extra efforts to make information related to the essential services widely available and accessible, and set up clear accountability mechanisms. Strong civil society is a key to such accountability mechanisms, and laws and policies that could potentially weaken civil society organization, including newly adopted amendments to the Law on Public Associations, should be reviewed.
Tajikistan is known as a champion of water at the global level. The Government should translate the commitment made at the global level into the national legislation, policies and budget and their implementation, particularly to eliminate disparities and address the needs of the most vulnerable groups. Seizing the opportunities in the current water sector reform process, the division of power and responsibilities among the State authorities needs to be urgently clarified. It is particularly important that regulation will be made independent and separate from the provision.
Tajikistan must not abdicate its responsibilities in dealing with rural water and sanitation issues. The Government must invest in sanitation and water services to guarantee affordable services for the poor and marginalized. Investing in sanitation and water, Tajikistan would make significant economic gains by saving on health care costs and related productivity losses. A new tariff system is also needed and must balance the affordability of water and sanitation for all and as well as the sustainability of those services.
The Government of Tajikistan must now become a champion of sanitation and water for its own people, taking the advantage of the opportunities in the ongoing water sector reform.
These are only some preliminary impressions. A full report on this visit will be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2016, which will include a more detailed analysis of all that I have learned on this mission as well as specific recommendations to the Government and other key actors.
I look forward to continuing this dialogue with the Government towards achieving the full realization of the human rights to water and sanitation to all people in Tajikistan.