Freshwater Action Network
– grassroots influencing on water and sanitation

Grassroots to Geneva — my few days at the United Nations by Josiah Omotto

 Mr Josiah Omotto from Umande Trust and KEWASNET in Kenya shares his thoughts and experience while in Geneva for the UN consultation on good practice in water, sanitation and human rights.

Being here has been a tremendous opportunity!

When we first heard about this consultation from Freshwater Action Network we decided that we would fill out the questionnaire on good practice as a team – all of us from the technical, community partnership to the policy units. It was an elaborate questionnaire and was a very useful process for reflecting on our work and thinking through what we really mean when we say things like accessibility, availability and affordability. We didn’t expect anything to come from our submission but we thought that it was worth it – we learned a great deal from the process.   

Now, months later I am here at the United Nations in Geneva benefitting so much from the experiences of others who have come from around the world – it is like a supermarket of ideas! My notebook is full with so many innovative and replicable lessons and ways of doing things. Every presentation has been full of new things that to learn and to be reminded of and reflect on. Community Led Total Sanitation for example – we have been doing this subconsciously but I really appreciated being reminded by Mr. Shahim Halim, from VERC and FANSA in Bangladesh about the philosophy behind total coverage. I thought the link made by the delegate from Burkina Faso between water and agriculture was useful because we need to make these links more in our work as well as to link more with the Millennium Development Goals.

The Independent Expert (far left), Josiah Omotto (far right) and other participants enjoy a preview of presentations to come

I was impressed by the breadth of the work on Afghanistan – it was a shock for me actually as all I know about Afghanistan, all I hear, is about war and here we heard a fabulous presentation on what is happening with biosan filters and so much more. I learned a lot from colleagues from Ecuador and Argentina about their particular circumstances and the sophisticated legal advocacy they are doing and learned that my colleagues from Bangladesh, Mr. Halim and Mr. Ranajit Das from DSK, have similar challenges – and we can discuss solutions together and support each other.

Our colleague from France spoke about how 3% of water bills go to support the poor and that is one thing that has really stuck with me. I think that we can look into something like this in Kenya now as we have just approved our constitution and need to move from our work on constitutional reform to regulation, standards and good policies necessary for implementation of this important document.

Even beyond all of this learning and sharing, I really enjoyed the time Ispent with others one-on-one in the breaks. I have gained a lot from the people here and their clear thinking and thoughtful consideration of our work.  

Participants listen in the consultation room (right)

The opportunity to be here and to have this kind of access and be able to share our experience on human rights is a rare privilege. As we are grassroots, we never have this kind of access at big international meetings. This opportunity also came at the perfect time for me to use it to celebrate our recent achievements in Kenya. We have been working to get a constitution since 1979 and coming here just after this has been accomplished and sharing what I have learned from decades of struggle and experience in governance and rights is remarkable. That is why I asked everyone to clap for Kenya at the beginning of my presentation. I am very proud of achieving this after so many decades and it has meant a lot to share it with so many from around the world who understand the struggle and the relevance to our work and our future.

FAN Advocacy Action and Learning Officer Kolleen Bouchane listens to the discussion (right)

This consultation and realizing the rights to water and sanitation is important for many reasons, in particular because it sets the legal framework necessary for respecting and protecting the rights of people to live in dignity and it is critical for joining up what is happening all levels – enabling us to build and international movement that will result in access for all. Significantly, the work of the Independent Expert has been not only about informing communities, it has been about listening – about considering the work that we are doing at the grassroots as relevant and important to the United Nations process. It is this serious listening to all of us that tells me that this is a serious and meaningful process that will impact and support our work.

The Independent Expert and consulation participants (right)

I would like to thank the Freshwater Action Network for informing me about this opportunity. And I would like to say to the FAN Secretariat – do not give up! I know that those of us in the field do not always provide feedback on the information that you are sending around and we do not always have time to contribute but we are gross consumers of your information products. I learned about this work on human rights in the United Nations from FAN, I learned how it is relevant to me and I learned how to influence a big process by continuing to do my work, reflect on my work and share it with others.  FAN information is like my daily newspaper – we are all FAN members out there listening and learning even when you do not hear from us, even then we are benefitting and working together.  So thank you to the FAN Secretariat and to FAN members everywhere for continuing to share your work. It is invaluable to my own.  

Josiah Omotto, Umande Trust and KEWASNET, Kenya (right)


Note from Kolleen: What’s next? Now that the consultation with CSOs is over, the Independent Expert will prepare to address the council about her work this year. This will most likely happen tomorrow afternoon (September 15). The United Nations Human Rights Council consideration of the resolution on human rights to water and sanitation will continue this week with another ;’open informal ‘ (most likely on the 16 or 17) where the text of the resolution is negotiated.  

Enjoying the break - partipants continue to share

If you have not already spoken with you country government, please take action using the information and tools in in our last few blogs. Many of governments of FAN members voted courageously in the recent UN General Assembly resolution so  the key message to them is: Thank you! Please come to the ‘open informals’ where the text of the resolution is negotiated and speak out in support of retaining the text and passing this important resolution by consensus.

How rewarding!

Dear Josiah and Dear Kolleen,


This blog made my day today! I am sooo happy that Josiah thought the consultation was helpful and, as you said, a "supermarket of ideas". I hope that the compilation will be a "hiper"market of ideas!


Let's keep in touch,


Catarina de Albuquerque

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