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Nigeria: when the State fails to provide water, fetching water should not be a criminal act – UN expert warns

Nigeria Water Law

27 February 2017

GENEVA (27 February 2017) – The United Nations expert on the human rights to water and sanitation raises serious concerns about a recent Bill in Lagos that criminalizes abstraction of water from natural sources.

The Special Rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitation, Léo Heller, says: “When the State fails to provide adequate access to drinking water, no one should be criminalized or fined for fetching water from lakes, rivers, or any other natural sources.”

The comment from the UN expert comes after the Lagos State House of Assembly passed the Lagos Environment Bill on 20 February 2017. The Bill includes specific provisions that criminalise the abstraction of water from natural sources if conducted without the approval from the authorities.

Mr. Heller said: “The Government is taking a step too far by imposing fines of the equivalent of USD 310 on ordinary individuals fetching water for survival, when the minimum wage stands at approximately USD 60.”

“Legal measures by the Government to regulate access to water are an important step to ensure that drinking water is safe,” said Mr. Heller. However, when only 10 per cent of the population are connected to piped networks and the rest of the population rely on natural water sources for drinking water, a blanket prohibition of accessing natural water sources is not the way forward,” he stressed.

Mr. Heller is urging the Government to reconsider the Bill and to conduct a proper and meaningful public consultation with all relevant stakeholders providing an adequate time for comments and opinions.

Mr. Heller has recently communicated about this matter to the Government. On 4 July 2016, the Special Rapporteur also sent a letter to the Government of Nigeria to request clarification about the water and sanitation situation in Lagos but no response has been received thus far.


Mr. Léo Heller (Brazil) is the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, appointed in November 2014. He is a researcher in the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil and was previously Professor of the Department of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil from 1990 to 2014. Learn more:

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page – Nigeria

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