As the world marks World Water Day today (22 March), the NGO Survival International has pointed out that the Gana and Gwi Bushmen of Botswana are marking eight years without access to a regular supply of water in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.
The Botswanan government is refusing to allow the Bushmen access to a borehole, which they had previously relied on for water.
The government sealed it in 2002, as they attempted to remove the Bushmen from the Reserve. Despite a High Court ruling four years ago, that upheld the Bushmen’s right to live there, the government has refused to allow them to re-commission the borehole.
Survival International says that although the Bushmen have to make 300-mile round trips to fetch water, the government has allowed the opening of a safari lodge in the Reserve, complete with a swimming pool for tourists, and has drilled new boreholes for wildlife only.
“The government’s continued refusal to allow the Bushmen access to their borehole is nothing short of malicious,” said Survival International’s Director Stephen Corry today, “All the Bushmen want is to be able to use their borehole as they did before they were illegally evicted from their lands”.
The Bushmen recently launched legal proceedings against the government in a bid to regain access to their borehole.
Many Bushmen have returned to their ancestral lands inside the Reserve since the High Court ruling. However, without access to their borehole, they face severe water shortages. Many more remain in resettlement camps as they are anxious about returning to their lands without access to a regular supply of water.
The government’s treatment of the Bushmen was recently condemned by the UN Special Rapporteur for indigenous peoples, who accused it of falling short of “the relevant international human rights standards”.
He also found that those Bushmen who have returned to the reserve “face harsh and dangerous conditions due to a lack of access to water” and urged the government to reactivate the Bushmen’s borehole “as a matter of urgent priority”.
Stephen Corry asked, “How can Botswana call itself ‘a shining light’ of democracy when it is denying its oldest inhabitants their fundamental right to water?”