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UC Student Workers Union Letter of Solidarity with Detroit Water Activists

[Reposting this open letter written by my union of student workers at University of California. UAW 2865 is formed of teaching assistants, tutors, and other student workers. This letter was shared with UAW Local 22, UAW Local 600, UAW Local 2865, the Detroit People’s Water Board, the office of Detroit Water and Sewage Department Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, the office of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, the office of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.]

To All, Who Should Be Concerned:

We write to condemn strongly Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, Mayor Mike Duggan, and Detroit Water and Sewage Department Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr who are now presiding over unprecedented, unjust residential water shut-offs and overseeing efforts to privatize Detroit’s water supply. This ongoing campaign is meant to deprive people of a most vital resource: skyrocketing hikes in the price of public water in a city with 50% unemployment, massive layoffs of city water workers and other public sector employees, and bringing in corporate-friendly crisis managers like Mr. Orr who have ignored the public’s concerns and outrage.

As the stewards of one of the most valuable water plants, with the most highly trained public workers, and which sits near the largest body of fresh water in the world, we believe the City of Detroit and the Detroit Water and Sewage Department have an obligation to service their surrounding communities. We acknowledge the difficult and costly work of providing clean water free of harmful pollutants. But rather than viewing this service as a private benefit few can afford, we believe it is a public obligation essential for community health and vitality. We therefore support the implementation of the Detroit People’s Water Board’s proposal for offsetting the cost of water treatment and ensuring sustained access.

Furthermore, we write in support of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’s censure of the mass water shut-offs, which have disproportionately impacted working class families, the elderly, and residents of color. Indeed, these residents have also unfairly borne the brunt of Detroit’s foreclosure crisis at the behest of banks and other private entities, the evisceration of public education and other essential services, the sell-off of city infrastructure and community holdings, and layoffs of public workers following drastic cuts to their retirement earnings.

Finally, we write in solidarity with the many community activists working to oppose this public health crisis and the privatization efforts driving it. We salute our fellow UAW workers of Local 22 and Local 600 who have vocally campaigned against this devastating state of affairs, some of whom were recently arrested while trying to prevent further deprivation of water to their communities. Like us, these workers see the water shut offs as a sign of Detroit’s divestment from working class communities and people of color, paving the way for their sickness and death amid gentrification. This is shameful. We uphold the UN’s ruling that access to clean water, like air and land, is a basic human right. As student-workers we write, train, research, teach, and mentor for a future where vital resources are held in public common and not exploited.

We write in solidarity with and admiration of the many inspiring individuals who daily resist the logic of privatization. From California to Detroit, we stand with you in the fight for renewed investment in the public.

In Deepest Solidarity,

UAW 2865, the Academic Student Workers of the University of California

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collaboration, community, homeless, international, sanitation, toilets, united nations

World Toilet Day recognized by UN: US network spreading word.

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Today – 19 November 2013 – is World Toilet Day. World Toilet Day is being officially recognized by the United Nations this year, and a host of organizations are simultaneously working on sanitation efforts worldwide.

Why is World Toilet Day important? Many people both in the United States and around the world have no safe places “to go.” Sanitation saves lives on a daily basis and in disaster situations, and those most oppressed encounter largest challenges around access. Statistics are stark. 2.5 billion people have no adequate sanitation. Preventable sanitation-related illnesses kill 1.5 million children each year. Around 1.7 million people in the US do not have indoor plumbing. Another 1.5 million people in the US live outside. This is a problem that affects many people in many places.

What is the history of World Toilet Day? The amazing Jack Sim, aka Mr. Toilet, started the World Toilet Organization 19 November 2001. He used the acronym WTO (think World Trade Organization) to raise awareness about the lack of sanitation globally. World Toilet Day was inaugurated the year after the anniversary of WTO founding. Starting in 2013, the UN designated 19 November World Toilet Day. Jack Sim is traveling to NYC for a myriad of celebratory events.

What can you do? What can you learn? Many admirable organizations are involved in sanitation. PHLUSH compiled a massive list of information and advocacy tools from many of them here. There are UNICEF posters and a Toilet Trek game, an interactive website by WASH United, and much more. Two US grassroots organizations – west-coast PHLUSH and east-coast The POOP Project – are also trying to raise awareness about US toilet issues. See ToiletsUSA : Why We Need to Speak Out on the PHLUSH website. Take The Pooper Pledge on The POOP Project website. Finally, if you are so inclined, you can follow #ToiletsUSA, #WorldToiletDay, #CelebrateTheToilet, #LiftTheLid, or #wecantwait on Twitter. May every day be World Toilet Day.

“A nation is judged by the compassion it shows its weakest citizens.” – Bruce Springsteen

collaboration, community, development, general, homeless, international, ngo, participatory management, sanitation, united nations

Empowerment and Gender Equality in Water and Sanitation: What does it mean? What does it matter?

If you know of work done by non-profit or governmental organizations globally, you have likely heard the words –  empowerment and gender equality. Groups worldwide use these terms in apparent pursuit of more equitable water and sanitation projects ranging from entrepreneurship to provision. When first exposed to these terms during my master’s studies in 2010, I became intrigued with understanding how empowerment and gender equality related to more participatory water and sanitation projects. Yet after conducting research for my master’s project [Empowerment and Gender Equality for Water and Sanitation in Rural India: Two Case Studies], it became clear these terms were used by organizations very differently. While some organizations might imply a borewell for water results in empowerment, others said participating on a decision-making committee results in empowerment (and so on).

Amidst this array of disparate definitions, it appeared to me such terms still might have some capacity to be somewhat useful conceptual approaches for more equitable water and sanitation projects. So when I received the opportunity this past summer to attend two different workshops focusing on empowerment and gender equality, I took the chance. In July, I attended a United Nations program in Geneva to see how different UN entities employed (or failed to) these concepts. In August, I traveled to UCLA for another workshop focusing on empowerment in public health.

After attending the UN Graduate Study Program, I began to wonder if there might be better discourse for equitable water and sanitation projects globally. Study program participants heard over twenty seminars from UN agencies – International Labor Organization, International Organization for Migration, Inter-Parliamentary Union, UN High Commission for Refugees, UN Human Rights Council, Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, UN Office at Geneva, UN Secretary General Envoy on Youth, UNAIDS, UNCTAD, UNDP, UNEP, UNFPA, and UNICEF. Many of these organizations talked about how they focus on women internally and externally, but it was often difficult for them to describe how they incorporated a true gendered-approach into their practices (e.g. focusing on power differentials between all people not just looking only at women). It appeared some of them were stuck in a paradigm of second-wave feminism when more transnational feminist approaches are now critical. What this means in basic terms is that most UN agencies use a “universal woman” approach (i.e. a “western woman” approach) instead of looking at larger nation-state and economic structural disparities.

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Above Photo: Author of blog post is located in left front row in white short-sleeve button-down. UN Photographer.

Studying at the UCLA Global Health and Empowerment workshop provided a chance to dig more into the theory behind empowerment in various disciplines. We read everything from Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Naila Kabeer’s Resources, Agency, and Achievements, and Jane Parpart’s Lessons from the Field. See entire syllabus here. This course covered a variety of critical and conservative empowerment theories in global health and global development (that word again) literature. My final grant-proposal project focused on sanitation and health issues in the US for two reasons: 1) the global north/global south binary is highly disconcerting to me, and 2) we have dire sanitation needs here that also demand attention. One of those sanitation needs is sanitation with/for those living outside in many cities in this wealthy nation. My proposal “Together for WASH: Pilot Program for Participatory and Gender-Sensitive Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene with Unhoused People in the United States” is currently undergoing final review. Here’s a sneak peek:

The long-term goal of this proposal is to improve measurable public health outcomes linked to WASH among unhoused people (men, women, and children) living in group camps furthering their upward social mobility and capacity to participate in social change. The objective of this proposal is to pilot low-cost and scalable WASH solutions coupled with participatory WASH programs in two group camps in two US cities. This pilot program is gender-sensitive using gender-specific solutions (e.g. eco-urinals and a menstrual hygiene management program) and gender-sensitive participatory techniques (e.g. community dialogue about gender burdens of WASH and representative participation). This pilot program uses an arts-based approach to give unhoused people a venue to highlight vulnerability in water and sanitation while communicating with policymakers to influence greater social change. This pilot program will lead to engagement in both individual and collective processes of empowerment resulting in critical consciousness among unhoused people in the realm of WASH.

So the jury is still out on water and sanitation development sector usage of terms like empowerment and gender equality.  It is not that empowerment and gender equality approaches are incompatible with true participatory water and sanitation programs. It is just that: 1) empowerment water and sanitation projects should be bottom-up instead of the top-down, 2) empowerment and gender equality definitions should be clearly outlined prior to development of water and sanitation programs, 3) larger structural frameworks and power structures have to be taken into account (e.g. examining how someone can experience empowerment on a local scale while being disempowered on the global economic scale), 4)  it is critical to consider scale when thinking about empowerment and gender equality in water and sanitation, 5) empowerment as part of international-development discourse might actually reinforce oppressions, and 6) alternative conceptual approaches for examining and participating in equitable water and sanitation programs could include liberatory or autonomous frameworks.

Author’s Postscript: If you would like to read more about empowerment theories from multiple disciplines, please check out this shared Google Drive list put together by colleagues and myself.

collaboration, community, gender, sanitation, toilets

Open letter in support of all-gender restroom demand by UC Student-Worker Union

[Forgive my dearth of  Water for the Ages posts. I have been studying water and sanitation issues in a sociology program at University of California Santa Cruz. I am a teaching assistant and taking courses there. Our current student worker contract expired November 2013. One of our demands – besides calling for a living-wage, etc. – is all-gender restrooms. Below is my public letter in support of that demand. If you also support this demand, please visit this online petition.]

This letter is in support of the all-gender restroom demand by the UC Student-Worker Union. At least one all-gender and wheelchair accessible restroom should be installed in each UC campus building. This is a human right. This is a worker’s right.

I am second-year graduate student enrolled in the sociology program at UC Santa Cruz. I am also a Teaching Assistant for a sociology course here. I started focusing on global water and sanitation issues around five years ago in both work and research, and safe access to toilets and hygiene is a demand people around the world take seriously. Given the recent recognition of water and sanitation as a human right by the UN and also by the state of California, to say nothing of the obvious benefit to various users, this is a demand the University of California should take also seriously.

Did you know that California was the first state in the nation to designate water (for “sanitary purposes“) a human right? Governor Brown signed the historic bill in September 2012. He made this move after the ground-breaking UN resolution for an international human right to water and sanitation in July 2010. In fact, this year the UN is officially dedicating November 19th as World Toilet Day? They said “This new annual observance will go a long way toward raising awareness about the need for all human beings to have access to sanitation.”

Sanitation is a question of basic dignity for people in the Global South and in the Global North. And we (UC students, faculty, staff, and visitors) are not exempt. The average adult urinates up to eight times a day and defecates up to three times a day. Still not all people in the UC system have equal access to restrooms. Families with small children, those with disabilities, caretakers of the elderly, and LGBTQ individuals often walk by restrooms thinking “is it safe to enter?”

LGBTQ individuals are especially burdened with possible harassment and bullying in gender-segregated restrooms. A 2001 San Francisco Human Rights Commission survey found “41% of transgender respondents reported direct harassment or physical violence in gender-limited public bathrooms.” The Transgender Law Center states “many transgender and non-transgender people have no safe places to go to the bathroom – get harassed, beaten, and arrested in both women’s and men’s rooms.”

Workers on campus are doubly impacted. With limited time constraints, they might not be able to leave their building to find an all-gender restroom before their section starts or during class breaks.

The UC system should follow the lead of other places providing these essential sanitation rights across North America. Portland, Oregon adopted public restroom design principles calling for all-gender and single-user facilities in public spaces when designing the Portland Loo. All-gender and single-user restrooms designed by an American Restroom Association president won awards in La Jolla, California. The University of Alberta recently converted all single-user restrooms to all-gender restrooms. Penn State University converted 80 single-user restrooms to all-gender restrooms. The majority of restrooms at New College of Florida (Sarasota Campus) are all-gender facilities. These are just a few of the many success stories.

In summary, the UC system is especially well-poised to ensure these critical sanitation rights are met for all workers (and all people) on campuses statewide per Governor Brown’s recent legislation requiring water for “sanitary purposes” for all people and the international recognition of sanitation as a human right. Workers with small children, those with disabilities, caretakers of the elderly, and LGBTQ individuals deserve a working environment that meets their sanitation needs. A minimum of one all-gender and wheelchair accessible restroom in each UC campus building is a both a human right and a worker’s right. I ask that you honor these rights during UAW 2865 bargaining agreements.

collaboration, community, ngo, participatory management, united nations

Does The Human Right to Water and Sanitation = Water and Sanitation Justice?

Has anyone ever asked you “What do you do?” An interesting philosophical question for sure, but one of my condensed answers often is “I work for water justice and sanitation justice.” This means I want to participate in a more just water and sanitation world on individual, community, and political scales. In 2010, the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council officially adopted The Human Right to Water and Sanitation resolutions. These resolutions represented the emergence of an international legal framework to recognize water and sanitation (WatSan) as a human right through availability, quality, acceptability, accessibility, and affordability. In my mind, this consecrated right was also a potential catalyst for a more just WatSan world. But I had never stepped back to ponder why the right to WatSan might seem equivalent to WatSan justice until I read an insightful paper called Forests, development, and the globalisation of justice by Forsyth and Sikor. Their paper provides a background on the historical connection of rights and justice concepts and challenges readers to evaluate universal notions of such.

Here’s a quick history on the right to WatSan as documented on the great The Rights to Water and Sanitation website. In 1948, close to 50 states agreed in the UN General Assembly to sign a Universal Declaration of Human Rights which identified about 30 rights: the right to education, the right to a standard of living for adequate health, and so forth. This Declaration led to multi-national treaties, national constitutions, and national laws. In 1966, two legally binding treaties identified a right to life and right to health which inferred WatSan were necessary to human life. In 2002, a UN committee issued a comment on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights saying “The human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights.” Finally, Special Rapporteur Catarina de Albuquerque was appointed in 2008 to work with civil society organizations and states to identify best practices for WatSan, clarify the legality of WatSan human rights, and make recommendations towards MDG 7C. It was likely her work, along with a proposal from Bolivia, that forwarded the adoption of UN General Assembly Resolution 64/292 in July 2010 “calling on states and international organizations to provide financial resources, build capacity and transfer technology, particularly to developing countries, in scaling up efforts to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation.” There were 122 states voting for the resolution, 0 against, and 41 abstentions (including the United States). The UN Human Rights Council passed an updated resolution the next year. But will this universal human right to WatSan lead to a more just WatSan world?

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Above Photo: Urban Semillas.

Forsyth and Sikor offer a case study of UN REDD – a global mechanism that provides rewards to countries whose forestry practices augment global carbon stocks. They describe efforts within this program to incorporate a traditional view of justice distributing benefits fairly and recognizing all stakeholders. The authors argue this type of justice does “carry embedded notions of value, knowledge, property, access, and governance that need to be interrogated more fully.” They describe how this traditional definition of justice related to fairness in allocation and equality of opportunity arose from John Rawls. In their case study – even amidst discussions by multi-lateral organizations, states, and NGOs – certain forest users’ concerns about justice were not allowed to enter the conversation. Interestingly, Forsyth and Sikor highlight that a Rawlsian view of justice relies upon distributions of property rights, and they identify three problems with linking rights to justice: 1) difficult decisions about types rights to be granted in pursuit of just distributions, 2) universal definitions including some people and excluding others, and 3) property rights may still result in unjust distributions. They conclude: “there is an urgent need, therefore, to make the historical context of property rights and their relationships to justice transparent.”

Let us take these three problems of linking rights to justice to begin to probe into The Human Right to Water and Sanitation process. First, difficult decisions must be made about types of rights to be granted to ensure just distributions. Some aspects of WatSan resources (providing sustenance to humans and animals, filtering pollutants, sustaining plant life, etc.) might seem likely to take precedence. But the key question really is what actors decided which WatSan rights were defined in the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Organization resolutions? Second, universal definitions can result in “dispossession and exclusion” of rights for some people. WatSan rights, like forest rights, are not a one-size-fits-all approach. For example, think about varying levels of water purity in different locations, varying amounts of water at certain times of the year, different cultural uses of water, etc. Were these types of concerns incorporated into the 2011 Compilation of good practices for WatSan human rights? And how are these good practices adapted by region? Third, it is important to understand the process of distribution for property rights. WatSan rights are not always considered property, and they are not distributed on a global scale. WatSan rights are typically distributed on national and regional (or even watershed) scales. It could be valuable to decipher the scale of WatSan distributions in various locations to see what actors benefit from such distributions. As my Science and Justice professor recently said, he thinks Forsyth and Sikor call for participation of a different kind: to ask what is water and for who; to ask what is justice and for who; and to finally move into talk about WatSan rights based on those previous conversations. The authors themselves also say that Amartya Sen’s view of justice might be more helpful because it questions “what is being allocated and whose values and agendas are represented.”

collaboration, community, united states

Communicating water science to policymakers: are we missing the point?

A recent article from The Guardian Higher Education Network blog entitled “How academics can engage with policy: 10 tips for a better conversation” provided ideas to help scholars better convey research to policymakers. It explained appropriate times for sharing academic information, how to communicate with policy officials, and how to create relationships with policymakers. This article exemplifies the dominant science and policy discourse of the day – scientists have a hard time communicating their research to policymakers who need this information to make important decisions. At least this was the prevailing conversation while I was completing my master’s degree in Water Resources Policy and Management in 2010. During that time, we learned how to write policy briefs and white papers to convey scientific information to appointed representatives, and we were trained in multidisciplinary collaboration. Being graduate students interested in water, these goals seemed natural as policymakers managed water resources and water had no physical or disciplinary boundaries. But were we as budding water managers and scientists missing the point?

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Above Photo: United States Government Work on flickr

Recent scholarship from a new field of studies called Science, Technology, and Society (sometimes called Science and Technology Studies or STS for short) might claim we were. STS scholars advanced a concept called co-production with various definitions revolving around how science and technology knowledge are co-produced in a societal setting. Sheila Jasanoff from Harvard described, as stated by Eva Lövbrand in “Pure Science or Policy Involvement“, co-production as “a dynamic process by which science and society continually shape, constitute, and validate one another”. Mike Hulme further delineated Jasanoff’s perspective in “What Sorts of Knowledge for what sort of politics?” saying she would argue for “deliberation and participation across all relevant questions”. Charis Thompson from UC Berkeley said co-production processes for science and technology knowledge creation in society occur through “developments around representation, identity, discourse, and institutions”.

So what does this mean for the lay person trying to understand the creation of water science knowledge in society? It means there is always societal influence on knowledge rooted in science and policy. Or in simpler terms, science is never fully insulated from policy. And societal influence can be varied depending on the type of science conducted. Lövbrand defined science as falling under three categories: basic science subjected to peer review, applied science to meet the needs of industry or government, and regulatory science with the primary audience of the government. Of course, boundaries between these science types are often blurred. But even the most pure form of basic science challenged to rigorous peer review processes can be driven by funding from a governmental entity or by prominent ideas of a certain time, and regulatory science – becoming more common in the 21st century as states are required to engage in risk analysis – requires scientists and politicians to rely on values and high levels of uncertainty.

And while these truths about science and policy seem self-evident, the prominent discourse of the day is still that science is conducted objectively with little societal influence, and it is the responsibility of objective scientists to better communicate their results to policymakers. As stated by some STS scholars like Mike Hulme, it seems the right questions for scientists, policymakers, and society should be the following. How is science knowledge created and whose knowledge is being represented? Are we valuing science knowledge that society wants to value or are we valuing information that a small subset thinks is valuable? Lövbrand tells us co-production gives us tools to answer these questions by creating a space to review “science and policy, facts and values, knowledge and power”. But the challenge, as Jasanoff might say, is re-articulating the societal framework for decision-making. She states: “With science more and more being produced in the service of social ends, the possibility of bias is far more evident, and the grounds of expert authority in greater need of re-articulation”. Here she is talking about challenging or re-forming the roles of science, experts, and committees in formal democracies. Water managers and scientists might question how this insight be applied to water science and policy-making endeavors. For many decision-making processes already use multiple-stakeholder input to come up with management plans (e.g. the Klamath Basin in Southern Oregon and Northern California.) But even these collaborative scenarios are focused more on decision-making and less on collaborative creation of science. Perhaps it is time to step back from the discourse calling for scientists to better inform policy-makers about their work, realize that science already represents varying values in society, and ask whose values are represented.

community, development, general, global, ngo, united nations

What kind of world do we want after 2015?

Sometimes it can feel difficult to make our voices heard on this big planet. But I just found out about a new website created by the United Nations with civil society groups to collect ideas for solving global poverty problems [including water and sanitation] after 2015. It’s called The World We Want 2015. Like the internet and the United Nations, it’s not perfect. Themes aren’t inclusive, not everyone have access to a computer, and allocated time is too short. But if you’re interested in global conversations regarding “development” after Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015, this is a chance to hear and speak about such issues from January 15th to February 15th.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were identified after the Millennium Summit in 2000. The eight goals cover topics such as poverty, environment, and health. Critics of MDGs cite problems such as lack of justification behind goals, difficulty monitoring goals, or inadequate attention to issues like agriculture or sanitation. Others believe MDGs encourage country progress, help the global sector focus on more than just income, and direct funding towards related projects. The UN has been tracking MDG progress. The 2012 MDG Report indicates targets for reducing extreme poverty, halving populations without safe drinking water, and improving conditions for those in slums have been met. But differences between regions are stark. For example, Sub-Saharan Africa is far behind all other regions. And sanitation targets have not been met worldwide.

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Above Photo: Tarek on Wikimedia Commons

People are talking about what should happen after 2015. Should there be another set of goals? Should “development” embrace bottom-up processes? What about foreign aid? Should indicators be universal? Some of these post-2015 topics are documented on The Broker – an online magazine for globalization and development. And The World We Want 2015 website provides an opportunity for civil society groups to engage in similar conversations. There are a few ways to get involved. Join the website using this registration link or follow on twitter at #post2015, #beyond2015, and #inequalities2015.

If you’re interested in water and sanitation like me, you can check out the water consultation – the portal on the website for talking about water and sanitation after 2015. There are three water sub-consultations: 1) Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene 2) Water Resources Management, and 3) Wastewater and Water Quality. Each week until February 15th, the sub-consultations will feature a different topic for discussion. Discussions will be compiled at a meeting held in The Hague around World Water Day 2013 on March 22nd. On a side note – it’s disconcerting they didn’t include sanitation as an independent consultation. Especially when the world is so far behind in meeting the MDG for sanitation. But I guess here’s my chance using the website to say so. Happy Friday!

general, sanitation, south africa

Talking Poo with You: World Toilet Summit 2012

It seems a little progress is being made in getting the world to talk poo. Some people know that 2.5 billion humans lack safe access to toilets and over 4,000 kids die each day from diarrhea illnesses linked with poor sanitation. Fewer people understand toilet issues affect everybody either in natural disasters or through types of sanitation systems (h20 or non-h20) used. But there is more work to be done to ensure all people have a humane place to go and to design sanitation systems that protect the natural environment. The annual summit started by the World Toilet Organization is where such conversations are started. As a volunteer for a grassroots group working on toilets in North America, I’ve been nominated to present PHLUSH (Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human) efforts there.

So PHLUSH – and by default Water for the Ages – is heading to the World Toilet Summit next week in Durban, South Africa. Local event sponsors are the South African Toilet Organization and the Foundation for Professional Development. Leading toilet experts from around the globe will be in attendance. The list is invigorating. Bindeshwar Pathak an Indian sociologist and founder of Sulabh International, Dr. Kamal Kar a specialist in social and participatory development in sanitation, Barbara Penner whose current project is studying the history of h20-based sanitation expansion amidst high economic and environmental costs, Hannah Neumeyer a senior legal manager of WASH United, Piers Cross with a background in social anthropology and public health who helped organize AfricaSan, and more. The agenda is packed!

To share their [the above toilet aficionados] knowledge with the world, I’ll liveblog and livetweet the event. Check out PHLUSH liveblog starting December 3 for updates. Follow @PortlandPHLUSH and @waterfortheages for livetweets using conference hashtag of #WTS2012. All talks to be covered are listed below this post. And it would be great to hear issues you want me to cover at the World Toilet Summit. Please make your voice heard using the poll below. This amazing opportunity is made available by a sponsorship from the World Toilet Summit and donations from many supporters. In the honor of service at the World Toilet Summit next week, it’s time to talk poo and share it with you.

December 4, 2012
Keynote Address by Dr. Bindshwar Patak from 10:45 to 11:00 (10:45 to 11:00 PST)
African Toilet Design from 11:00 to 11:15 (1:00 to 1:15 PST)
Sanitation for All by Piers Cross from 11:45 to 12:00 (1:45 to 2:00 PST)
Achievements and Challenges of CLTS in Africa by Dr. Kamal Kar from 12:45 to 13:00 (2:45 to 3:00 PST)
Sanitation and Human Rights by Hannah Neumeyer from 14:30 to 16:00 (4:30 to 6:00 PST)

December 5, 2012
Sustainable Health and Hygiene Practices by Therese Dooley from 10:00 to 10:40 (00:00 to 00:40 PST)
Gender in Sanitation by Maxie Matthiessen from 11:30 to 11:50 (1:30 to 1:50 PST)
Mobile Communal Sanitation by Christopher Muanda from 15:30 to 16:30 (5:30 to 6:30 PST)

December 6, 2012
Green Buildings Recovery of Water and Nutrients by Jan-Olaf Drangert from 10:45 to 11:00 (00:45 to 1:00 PST)

animation, sanitation

Celebrating World Toilet Day 2012 Locally and Globally

Water and toilets are inextricably linked, but toilets sometimes take a backseat to water problems occurring worldwide. But if you don’t have water, you can’t have some styles of toilets or proper hygiene and around 200 million tons of human defecation pollutes waterways each year causing illnesses. Even though over 800 million people do not have safe drinking water and around 2.6 billion people do not have safe sanitation, water projects often receive more funding and media coverage. It’s essential to think about toilets locally and globally. World Toilet Day created by the World Toilet Organization is an opportunity to talk about the hidden problem of sanitation. To celebrate World Toilet Day 2012, Water for the Ages is raising awareness in US cities about emergency sanitation with PHLUSH and sharing information about toilet initiatives happening globally. Sanitation saves lives!

Sharing Emergency Sanitation in the US
PHLUSH believes toilets are a human right. The organization [where I volunteer] works on sanitation issues in North America: 1) public restroom design, 2) emergency sanitation, and 3) ecological sanitation. PHLUSH has had success in adaptation of an emergency toilet model used in Christchurch, New Zealand. This Twin Bucket Emergency Toilet helps families deal with lack of sanitation, and it’s ecologically friendly. Partner organization MDML created the Sewer Catastrophe Companion which provides detailed instructions in the event of long-term sewer disruption. These two organizations seem to be leading the nation in long-term emergency sanitation solutions. For World Toilet Day 2012, PHLUSH is sharing this emergency toilet model with several cities across the country. Please see open letters to Seattle, San Francisco, and Santa Cruz below. For more information, please contact info@phlush.org and follow @PortlandPHLUSH and @waterfortheages.

Emergency Sanitation Letter Seattle
Emergency Sanitation Letter San Francisco
Emergency Sanitation Letter Santa Cruz


Above Photo: Twin Bucket Toilet by Carol McCreary

Supporting Sanitation Efforts Worldwide
Lack of toilets globally is a huge issue, and related illnesses are the second biggest killer of children under five. Regions with worst access are West and Central Africa (36 percent coverage), South Asia (37 percent coverage) and Eastern and Southern Africa (38 percent coverage). Improving toilet coverage will allow girls to attend school, help save lives of small children, create a safer environment for women, and is the first step towards empowering communities. Many organizations are working to raise awareness on World Toilet Day 2012. The World Toilet Day website encourages people to get involved by tweeting and signing a petition. Water Aid created an awesome video to let people know 1 in 3 women do not have safe places to go. A great article called Thinking Outside the Stall was written featuring WASH Advocates. Water.org has an interactive website where you can “share your voice for World Toilet Day” by allowing them to link to your twitter and Facebook accounts. And Water for People has nifty e-cards that you can send to your friends. Please take a few moments today to learn a little something about those many humans without toilets. It could help save lives!

art, united states, water

Atlanta Artist Depicts People of Nature

A human-nature binary exists today where many organized humans believe they are separate from wild nature. Some argue this perceived division is leading to ruin, and one visual artist is examining such ideas among others. The H20 Art page on the Water for the Ages blog is about to feature a new artist: Karley Sullivan. I’m elated to feature her artwork because we’ve been friends since enigmatic teenage years in our East Tennessee hometown. But I’m even more honored to feature Karley because her artwork is truly transformational. It seems she has little fear in confronting the human-nature binary in her mode of communication, and echos of the water world abound. Please check out the H20 Art page to see more.


Above Photo: Self Portrait by Karley Sullivan

architecture, community, drinking water, homeless, sanitation

Water and Toilets for Humans w/o Homes

On a recent trip to my hometown, I traveled two hours north to visit a close family member living on the streets. He is chronically homeless, and it deeply saddens me he is unable to accept housing assistance. Someone chronically homeless is an “individual with a disabling condition who has either been continually homeless for a year or more or who has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past 3 years.” There were around 650 thousand people homeless one night and 1.59 million people spent one night in a shelter in 2010, and about 17 percent were chronically homeless. Reasons such as high unemployment and/or substance abuse problems contribute to homelessness, but people without homes still have basic human needs. Basic needs that include water for drinking and washing and toilets to pee and poop.

Before the trip, I gathered basic living provisions for Nate (pseud.): backpack , raincoat, shoes, water bottle, and soap. But I worried “where would he fill his water bottle?” and I wondered “where would he use his soap?” While buying him lunch, I gingerly asked if he ever uses shelters. He doesn’t. He echoed what numerous other people feel, “shelters are dirty, dangerous, and packed.” This older ethnographic report by Hill and Stamey found the same sentiment. Nate essentially has nowhere to get water, take a bath, or use the bathroom. I was distraught to probe further, and I didn’t want to insult his dignity. But I now wonder more than ever before. What are US communities doing to provide water and toilets for humans without homes?


Above Photo: Leroy Allen Skalstad on Wikimedia Commons

There are few water and toilet options for individuals experiencing homelessness. For water, folks may use a public drinking fountain [not always nearby], sinks in a public bathroom [not always nearby], drinking fountains at a shelter [often not open during daytime], sinks in a private bathroom [could be kicked out], or ponds and streams [possibly contaminated]. For toilets, folks may use a public toilet [not always nearby], a toilet in a shelter [often not open during daytime], a private toilet [could be kicked out], or go outside [could be arrested]. It’s a challenging situation for those on the streets. I didn’t tell him I noticed when we took him to lunch, but the first thing Nate did was use the restaurant bathroom.

US cities need to do a better job ensuring ample public drinking water, hand-washing, and toilet facilities for those experiencing homelessness. There are organizations and cities addressing the issue, but more research needs to be done to inventory, categorize, and prioritize options nationwide.

Here are a few brief examples. The I am Waters Foundation provides bottled water to shelters, missions, and community homeless organizations. Central Oregon Veterans Outreach gives 5-6 gallon containers to homeless camps and returns to fill them with water weekly. Some shelters such as this one in Arizona host bottled water drives during summer months. Portland built six innovative Portland Loos. Another organization in San Francisco is proposing similar small bathrooms except with toilets that separate solid from liquid wastes. Several cities like Grand Rapids and San Diego installed portable toilets in the past.

The handful of water and toilet projects listed above are steps in the right direction, but sadly few of these options are available in Nate’s town. In addition, some are short-term solutions to long-term problems. It gives me hope that one academic architecture program is realizing the importance of design for those without homes hosting a Rethinking Shelter event, but it’s up to all of us to better understand water and toilet options available for those without homes and to advocate for appropriate solutions. In conjunction with PHLUSH, we’ll compile more information on this issue in future posts.

Nasa Image of Water Earth
water availability

What is your definition of global water shortage?

A few weeks ago a freshman from City College of New York contacted me to ask a simple question for her Environmental Psychology class: “What is your take on the global water shortage?” She believed many people were not aware of the issue, or they thought such a scenario wouldn’t affect them. After pondering her question for a few minutes, I realized she made a good point in the North American context. In many lower-income countries where water access is a big problem, people are familiar with the idea of global water shortages. In North America, it feels like the general public is more aware of global water shortages existing primarily in other countries (now this may slowly be changing in areas such as the arid southwest US or in areas experiencing drought).

Nasa Image of Water Earth
Above Photo: Through the Cupola on the International Space Station by NASA

Let us first define global water shortage. A general definition of global water shortage is an excess of humans worldwide not having safe, potable water. There are around 800,000 people globally without access to water. People don’t have water because they can’t afford systems to convey and treat water or they live in locations where water is physically scarce. The global water shortage is compounded by affects of climate change, population growth, human migration, pollution, and competition. Climate change could result in longer periods of drought or intense flood events and people, even those living in the United States, will experience water supply variability. Population growth and human migration, pollution from factories and homes, and competition between water users will further limit available water resources even in the United States. There are two areas of concern when thinking about a global water shortage from a North American perspective: 1) ensuring all people have equitable access to water supplies globally, and 2) ensuring that we in the United States are learning conservation methods and preparing for times of water scarcity.

Regarding these two areas of concern, it seems North Americans are more empathetic to the global component but less empathetic to the water conservation component. Popular groups like charity: water and water.org use famous celebrities like Matt Damon to help explain the global water shortage message to the North American public. The general public may not know the exact number of people without adequate water, but they seem to understand that people live without water in other countries. But when they turn on the tap, they don’t understand how using less water will help their community or how learning water conservation techniques could help their community. This might arise from a lack of understanding about local water policies, the energy used to treat such water, or even the basic water cycle. People don’t realize how what they do is connected to the bigger picture. For example, using less water requires the municipality to treat less water which will use less energy which could mean less gas extracted for energy production. International NGOs, federal and state governmental organizations, and even/especially I could do a better job communicating the global water shortage to the North American public to help avoid this global/local divide. What is your definition of a global water shortage?

technology, water, water availability, water management

Real Time Data for Water and Sanitation

If you’ve been following recent events like World Water Week or the online Transparency in the Water Sector talk, you’ve heard a lot of buzz about real time data collection. Real time data collection happens when modern technologies (mobile phones, GPS, and computer systems) are adapted for data collection, organization, and dissemination with little time delay. Such technological adaptations helps water users and managers, and as an Alertnet article states, “mobile technology boosts water security for the poor.”


Above Photo: Water for People

Mobile phones play a big part in real time data collection. Over 6 billion people have mobile phones worldwide, and more people have mobile phones than toilets. The GPS, camera, word-processing software, and mobile network associated with some mobile phones allow water users and managers to better: map and track water and sanitation systems to evaluate current and future system development.

  1. Akvo FLOW is a tool for Android Phones with GPS to collect data, analyze data, and visualize data on maps. It has been used in Liberia to create water-point maps. This program was supported and funded by the World Bank. Here are the actual online maps.
  2. WASHFunders.org has a great toolkit for monitoring and evaluation on their website. This toolkit features – among others – FLOW and Water Aid’s Waterpoint Mapper. The Waterpoint Mapper is an open source mapping tool that can be used with no internet connection.
  3. Manobi Development Foundation created mWater which is a program that “allows water-service operators to share information with national authorities and financial institutions via mobile phone.” This system features text messages sent about water production levels, water system financial updates, and water service disruption warnings.
  4. Deep Springs International has been distributing water treatment kits in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake. They ensure water technicians are equipped with mobile phones that use radio frequency identification technology (RFID) to identify levels of chlorine in each household kit. Technicians text results back to the organization for further analysis.
  5. Water for People partnered with Akvo to use FLOW as a tool for monitoring and evaluation. They also just unveiled a new real-time sponsor tool called Reimagine Reporting. It links the FLOW data with the funding data.

For more information on mobile phones for real time data collection, check out mobileactive.org. There you can search directly for “water” applications and case studies. There is a great review of such technologies in the WASH sector called mWASH: Mobile Phone Applications for the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Sector. Happy Saturday!

general, PSA-a-thon Series

Water and Food – PSA-a-thon Series

In honor of this year’s World Water Week and World Water Day themes of Water and Food Security, it’ll be fun to see some Public Service Announcements conveying a similar message. It was actually a bit difficult to find them on this topic. The first PSA was posted on AlertNet not long ago. In a simple way, it details the surprisingly high amounts of water required to produce different types of food. An H20 Food page on this blog that covered similar things is archived here.

And if you still don’t quite see how water and food security are connected, the next PSA will help you understand. It was created by the International Food Policy Research Institute, and it details how the water, energy, and food sectors affect each other. It’s a really good intro video – please share.

film, general, international, water justice

Abuello Grillo vs. The World

Words aren’t needed when watching this animation convey water justice issues using universal languages of imagery and sound. This animation was created at The Animation Workshop by a group of animators from Bolivia, a French director, music from Bolivia, and others from Mexico and Germany. It features Abuello Grillo (or Grandmother Cricket). Her melodic voice causes the rain to fall filling rivers and feeding crops. One day on a trip away from the countryside, she is kidnapped. Her captors make her sing on stage while they fill water trucks to sell the water to villagers.

The ability of a wordless film to tell an intricate story reminds me we can communicate globally without language barriers. This film was able to make me remember many people in the Global South face extremely high water prices when companies purchase and sell municipal water, wonder about the legality of extracting massive amounts of water for bottled water sales, and inquire about the nuances of the definition of human right to water. What does it tell you?