On 24 May 2023, the Botswana High Court will hear arguments in a case brought by the Botswana Gazette after it was refused access by the Water Utilities Corporation (WUC) to a report on the water flow into the Gaborone Dam. The Gazette argues that the refusal to provide access to the report is unreasonable and violates the right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to access information that is in the public interest. The WUC’s position is that it already provides information to the public on water levels, sensitive public water management issues and conservation. The Gazette submits that the WUC must “promote transparency in the water sector” and “ensure the meaningful participation of communities in decision-making processes in the water sector”.
“Botswana’s Constitution guarantees the right to access information; however, no law enables citizens to assert this right when it has been denied,” says Rudolf Olsen, Managing Editor, The Botswana Gazette. “Media houses are constrained in providing the public with information which is in their interest when government bodies fail to comply with the principles of transparency and open governance essential to a democracy.”
“As Botswana’s water situation becomes even more precarious, it becomes ever more critical that citizens can hold the government to account on how water resources are managed,” says Anneke Meerkotter, Executive Director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre. “The information that States should make available to citizens extend to information relating to projects or actions by third parties which impact water resources, and measures taken to remedy unlawful diversion of water and hold perpetrators accountable.” “It is in the public interest that all information relating to Botswana’s water resources are accessible and available to enable the public to participate in democratic processes in a manner that can secure future water resources and livelihoods.”
The Botswana Gazette is represented by Tshiamo Rantao from Rantao Attorneys and supported by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC). The case will be heard before Judge Motumise J. at 9.00 am in the Gaborone High Court.
In 2014, the Sunday Standard newspaper carried a story entitled “The rich blocking water flow in Gaborone dam”, wherein it was reported that the WUC commissioned a study which allegedly revealed that dams are blocking the flow of water into the Gaborone Dam, resulting in lower water levels and water rationing.
The Water Utilities Corporation’s functions include supplying water and taking measures to secure adequate water supplies. As part of its functions, the WUC operates the Gaborone dam located south of Gaborone along the Gaborone-Lobatse road and provides water for both Gaborone and Lobatse. The effective catchment area covers 225 square kilometres drained by the Notwane, Taung, Metsemaswaane and Nywane rivers.
Botswana is highly vulnerable to climate variability and changes due to its high dependence on rain-fed agriculture and natural resources, high poverty levels – particularly in rural areas, and a low adaptive capacity to handle these expected changes. Climate change challenges are centred around water resource availability, changing precipitation patterns, accelerated evapotranspiration rates and increasing population demands making communities vulnerable to food insecurity and unstable livelihoods and unsustainable agroecological systems, crop failure and unproductive rangelands.
Water quality and availability changes will predominantly impact Botswana in future climate scenarios. Current models estimate that by 2050, climate change will decrease water inflow into dams by 3.5 to 19%, representing an actual loss of 34 to 75 Mm3 by 2050. Given this significant strain on water inflow to dams, it is in the public interest to know when further inflow encroachments occur.
For more on this case, see the case file. African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ Guidelines on the Right to Water in Africa.