#wwweek Talk Brief: Gender, Water, and Food Security

conference, gender, international, sanitation

The second event I tuned to was the Concrete Actions: Advancing the Integration of Gender, Water, Food Security talk. The theme of this seminar was exciting because I had previously grappled with developing a tool for measuring gender equality and empowerment in water and sanitation. And as Hon. Bigombe so eloquently said, “If you want to go fast, travel alone. If you want to go far, travel together.” This talk focused on gender, water, and food security with a feature on the African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW) Gender Strategy. The AMCOW Gender Strategy is a model that could be adapted by other regions because it addresses gender equality in “water-livelihood spheres” while identifying minimum targets for gender, water, and food security. The aim of the talk was to have multiple experts review methods of gender, water, and food security measurement to find common measurement tools. As I have experienced, measurement of gender equality and empowerment for water can difficult because gender and water cover multiple scales (household, community, political) and multiple dimensions of interaction (access, planning, and management). So I was excited to learn from these women.

Empowerment Measurement Meinzen-Dick
Above Photo: Domains of Empowerment for Water by Dr. Ruth Meinzen-Dick, IFPRI

The esteemed speakers presented ways for understanding and measuring gender equality and empowerment. Dr. Dikito-Wachtmeister from GWP said the AMCOW gender mainstreaming process gathered comments from stakeholders and developed key targets. Their approach honors qualitative data and participatory action. Dr. Sisto from FAO outlined four national gender-sensitive indicators: 1) management of land/water, 2) access to paid employment, 3) access to education, and 4) institutional empowerment. FAO also developed a checklist for organizations to use while mainstreaming gender in agriculture. Dr. van Koppen from IMWI identified gender-sensitive indicators for different water realms including livelihoods, uses, control over technologies, and control over resources. Her talk is featured on YouTube here. Dr. Meinzen-Dick from IFPRI reviewed a WEAI tool to measure empowerment in agriculture within five domains: 1) productive decisions, 2) control over resources, 3) control over income, 4) leadership opportunities, and 5) adequate time. She made comparisons of these domains to the water sector (see above image). Overall, I’m excited to scour the presentations again to improve my understanding of gender equality and empowerment measurement in water and sanitation. Scalable is important – yes, but socioeconomic conditions have to inform any model. I’m curious to see if “a one size fits all” approach is practical.

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#wwweek Talk Brief: Sanitation and Water for All

conference, general, international, measurement, politics, sanitation

The first event I tuned to was the Sanitation and Water for All: Global Decision-makers Unite on WASH talk. Volunteering with PHLUSH, I wanted to get some info on global sanitation initiatives, and I liked the way this group includes sanitation first in their title. The Sanitation and Water for All partnership is over 80 country and organization partners with a goal of universal, sustainable sanitation and water through mutual trust and accountability. They believe in three avenues for action: 1) political prioritization, 2) evidenced based decision-making, and 3) robust planning. They meet alternate years at a High Level Meeting (HLM), and over 400 sanitation and water commitments were made in 2012 with cross-cutting themes of open-defecation, equity, private-sector engagement, and climate change.


Above Photo: SWA

This talk hosted multiple presenters who work with the partnership. They emphasized the value of monitoring HLM commitments, “a big problem in the sector is monitoring and real-time results related to services.” But each country is responsible for measuring such independently. One presenter, Baker Yiga from ANEW, says countries in his region act on commitments by coordination at the national level, sector working groups, and popularization of commitments with civil servants. Another presenter, Bai Mass Taal from AMCOW, says it’s important to bring sanitation to the highest political level and ensure ministers translate commitments on-the-ground. One Twitter comment called for more “tangible examples related to WASH monitoring like Waterpoint Mapping.” For more info on the talk, Twitter comments from this session at #sw4all were compiled into Storify. If you have any updates, send me a message.

God dag! from Water World Water Week

conference, international

Greetings from World Water Week in Stockholm via my computer, that is. This week, August 26 to 31, is the highly-regarded water conference held each year by Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI). This event is a “unique forum for the exchange of views, experiences and practices between the scientific, business, policy and civic communities” in global water and sanitation arenas. This year’s theme is Water and Food Security, and here is some food for thought. Water is used to grow food, land rights often determine who has water access, and water-intensive food diets are becoming more common. With around 850 million people w/o enough food and 780 million w/o safe water, it’s essential people get together to talk water and food. This year’s conference is hosting a number of neat workshops to allow for knowledge sharing.


Above Photo: World Water Week, SIWI

If you’re like me and can’t travel to Stockholm, you might be wondering how to get more info about World Water Week happenings. The SIWI folks have made it pretty easy this year. They created a Social Media Hub with a stream of select conference seminars at www.watermedia.org. They also have a YouTube channel with videos and interviews. I like the inspiring video feature of the WASH Media Award Winners there. In the Twittersphere, they created an event hashtag at #wwweek. You watch the #wwweek chatter on Twitter or online to learn more and meet new people. I created a #wwweek stream on the lower right-hand side of this blog, if you’d like a sneak peek. My experiences attending World Water Week virtually have been pretty awesome so far. I’ve tuned into two talks, and brief summaries will be posted shortly. Hejdå.

Desalination in California: Coming to a City Near You

community, desalination, united states

A couple days ago my friend asked me to join her at a meeting about a ballot measure related to the construction of a desalination (desal) plant in Santa Cruz, California. The idea of the public gearing up to oppose desal in the city encouraged me to do background research on the issue, and it also reminded me I am now living in the sometimes-arid West.


Above Photo: Pacific Institute

Desal is thought by some to be a solution to water shortages. Development of technologies to extract drinking water from saltwater in a sustainable way would be a huge advance, but most current technologies are expensive in terms of infrastructure and energy. Still around 20 desal plants have been proposed for California, according to a 2006 Pacific Institute report. Proponents cite benefits like water for development and during drought, but the report states other water alternatives should be used first. Such water alternatives include treating low-quality water, regional water transfers, improving conservation, recycling wastewater, and smart land-use planning.

Santa Cruz is the yet another place in California with public outcry related to a proposed desal plant in their our backyard. The city proposed desal to supplement water during drought years and for development, and they are planning to spend 15.5 million dollars researching this proposed plant. Local citizens like Rick Longinotti found out. They were worried about associated negative effects including excessive energy use, expensive water, and impacts on marine life. He formed a group called Desal Alternatives with others. This organization identified several alternatives to supplement existing water sources such as treatment of wastewater, a local water transfer, and water conservation measures.


Above Photo: The City of Santa Cruz Water Department (SCWD) and Soquel Creek Water District

Local citizens also knew they needed a measure on the ballot to allow citizens to decide whether they should have a right to vote on a proposed desal plant. People came together to form a non-partisan coalition called Right to Vote on Desal. This group draws membership from local organizations including Desal Alternatives, Transitions Santa Cruz, Peak Water, a group opposing UCSC expansion, and others. They collected the 5,000 signatures necessary to get Measure P added to the November ballot. If approved, Measure P will ensure that citizens have a right to vote on the proposed desal plant (likely in 2014).

Multi-stakeholder engagement in desal is likely to become widespread in California in the years to come, as detailed in this article. The Pacific Institute states only one of 17 projects proposed in 2006 have been built with one other securing all needed permits. Santa Cruz citizens discovered Marin County voters were fighting desal using a ballot measure, and they followed in the same accord. I believe it’s probably just a matter of time before other communities also take a stand – to have the right to decide whether or not it’s something they want in their backyards.

‘Transparency in the Water Sector’ Live Broadcast Review

international, ngo, video, water events, workshop

This morning, I was energized to listen to a live broadcast of the “Transparency in the Water Sector” panel discussion hosted by Water for People. This talk featured a variety of professional development practitioners, and viewers were tweeting about the event at #waterhonesty. I’m not an expert on water-project transparency, and this talk was a good opportunity to learn more.


First, a primer on transparency in the water sector.

Before the broadcast, I tried to find a good definition of “transparency in the water sector” online. Transparency International indicates transparency leads to accountability which leads to integrity which leads to less corruption. Corruption is defined as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain “. IRC says integrity and honesty lead to less corruption in the water sector. Transparency is defined as “sharing information and acting in an open manner”. SIWI states “Transparency, accountability and integrity are critical governance components without which corruption issues cannot be successfully addressed.” So in lay terms – transparency in the water sector leads to accountability, honesty, and integrity which leads to less corruption. This is good because corruption has been identified as the major barrier in meeting the Millennium Development Goals including MDGs focused on water and sanitation.

Now, the goods of the talk.

Much of the talk centered around defining water-project transparency in practice. The talk broached several subject areas, and I attempted to compile a few main points on water-project transparency below. If you have any updates to this review, send me a message. Water for People will host another live broadcast in the future, and – with Portland PHLUSH – one idea for a topic is emergency sanitation. Nonetheless, what a great way to open up global dialogue on water and sanitation issues. Hats off to Water for People and all presenters today!

Water-project transparency components:
Transparency in funding essential. USAID dashboard good example.
Other project components need transparency: design, construction, and long-term use.

Water-project transparency challenges:
Indicators for success not working. Indicators for Millennium Development Goals not applicable.
Many tools for evaluating transparency, but no streamlined system.
Lack of long-term monitoring for water and sanitation systems. Many donors not supporting longevity of WASH systems.
[Lack of analysis of project failure to promote learning and adaptation for future project success.] – See comment by Paige.

Water-project transparency solutions:
Indicators of project success developed unique to location. Cultural systems incorporated.
Low-cost monitoring tools, like Akvo Flow, used.
Transparency tools and frameworks compiled and streamlined. WIN site to compile tools.
Different responsible roles created for monitoring, evaluating, and learning.
Long-term monitoring and evaluation emphasized to donors. Sustainable funding source ensured for project, monitoring, and evaluation.
[Analyze project failure in detailed methodological way to be accountable to funders and incorporate lessons for future improvement.] – See comment by Paige.

Pittsburgh Water Artist Makes Waves

art

Art has a way of reaching people through a universal language. The H20 Art page on the Water for the Ages blog is about to feature a new artist: Karen Jean Larson. Karen grew up in Florida, and she has been entranced with the ocean – with water – ever since. She has incorporated water concepts into many of her pieces, and she recently participated in the “Rain Barrels on Parade” project to paint barrels that will be auctioned off to raise money for a non-profit organization. To see her art and read an artist Q&A, please visit the H20 Art page here.


Above Photo: Karen Jean Larson Website.

The Case for Pay Toilets (in Portland, Oregon)

general

This is an opinion piece on pay toilets. It was written for the PHLUSH blog in response to an article published in the Portland Mercury called When You Gotta Go. This post talks about my experiences using pay toilets in Europe, and it suggests a similar model could be implemented in Portland, Oregon.

A recent trip to Europe made me question the American way of feeling entitled to pee for free. After helping local sanitation group PHLUSH with two great summer events, I traveled out of the country with my partner while he completed company training. As Rose George said in The Big Necessity  “once you notice something, you notice it everywhere. Our most basic bodily function, and how we choose to deal with it, leaves signs everywhere entwined with everything, as intricately  intimate with human life as sewers are with the city.” So I noticed toilets on this trip abroad  – in the train stations of Germany and on the main squares of Italy. They were everywhere, and they typically cost money to use.

Two short toilet vignettes:

Germany: Avoiding the cramped airplane toilet during the flight to Germany, I really had to go after landing. I rushed to the main station to catch a train. Temporary WCs (the others under construction) were located on Track 3, and the sign said € .50. An attendant took my money and ushered me to a stall. Instead of walking into the usual stinky portable toilet, I was welcomed by a sparkling commode and sink.


Above Photo: L.Wilms on Wikimedia Commons.

Italy: It turns out € .50 wasn’t enough in Venice. We took a shared water bus from the airport to the city, which is man-made above a lagoon. Inside the bus station, I found the WC. The cost was €1.50. I really had to go, so I put some money in the turnstile and entered. This toilet was like most others I had experienced in Europe: private [unlike many North American stalls], fresh, and clean.


Above Photo: Public toilet in San Polo. Durant and Cheryl Imboden.

At the beginning of this month-long trip, I often thought indignantly “why do I have to pay to use the WC everywhere?”. The expensive Venetian toilets were especially disconcerting. But I slowly began to appreciate the cleanliness and availability of toilets. Toilet supplies like paper and soap were always available, floors were un-littered, and toilet seats were clean and dry. You could usually find a toilet within walking distance, and the fees helped maintain the toilets and pay attendants. For the most part, I became a pay-toilet believer.

After reading the article When You Gotta Go about the lack of public toilets in Portland, I wondered “could the pay toilet model provide some relief to Portland?” The article stated there were few public toilets in the city and many were unpleasant. The Portland Loos are serviced by Clean and Safe, but there are only five of them and a handful of other tax-supported toilet locations. Some businesses downtown have public toilets, but they are only usable by clients and customers. If the City of Portland built pay toilets in central shopping locations downtown, many visitors could afford to use them. Perhaps the income from the toilets could also provide additional revenue to an organization like Clean and Safe.

Of course, there would be a few hurdles when moving forward with pay toilets in Portland. Some toilets would need to continue to be [low cost and/or] free for those with no money. This would be in alignment with the United Nations Resolution that “clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realization of all human rights”. Pay toilets could be provided by businesses alongside the free toilets that are mandated by occupancy-based building codes, but the American Restroom Association website points out that the National Model Building Code “does not allow pay toilets unless mandated toilets are also available without charge”. Finally, the public would need to be re-conditioned to see the value of paying to pee. But I believe the last hurdle would be quickly overcome after each person has their first experience in a clean-smelling, supply-rich, convenient toilet during a harrowing day in the big city.

Water for the Ages Gets a Brand New (out)Look

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Start: In September 2007, I decided to create a blog to better understand global water problems with the hope of finding solutions. I built the Water for the Ages blog as a place to compile water-related information and write posts about global water issues. This blog also surprisingly became a place to communicate with other passionate H20 people from around the world.

Reach: Soon after starting it, I enrolled in a graduate program in Water Resources Management to learn more about global issues. I lived and blogged in India for several months while conducting research, and I completed a thesis on empowerment in water and sanitation. India changed me. After coming home, I wondered how one young, white girl from North America could ever make a tangible difference. I didn’t want to be another person with an imperialistic agenda.


Above Photo: Hidden Me Blogging in 2009

Grow: Over the past year, I blogged little while doing a quite a bit. I worked in the renewable energy sector with the hope of learning about the energy-water nexus. I volunteered with an amazing sanitation advocacy group called PHLUSH. I received a scholarship to attend a graduate program in Environmental Sociology at University of California. The most difficult of all, I engaged in self growth.

Learn: I eventually realized that people can solve problems best when they work together, each person has different useful strengths, communication is everything, and it’s important to “be me”. So now I’m in Santa Cruz preparing for my graduate program, and I figured it was a great time to revitalize Water for the Ages. When I signed on, the many comments from inspiring people over the past few months reminded me that I was on the right track.

Ta Da: So I present to you the new-and-improved Water for the Ages blog. I even added a nifty calendar on the upper left right which shows you important global water and sanitation events. I imported this information from IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre and UN Water. I can’t promise how regularly I’ll be blogging, but I figured resources here are handy. I’m remembering – it’s the little things that count.

College Students Take Big Strides to Conserve Water

general

The average person in the U.S. uses anywhere between 80 and 100 gallons a day, and Columbia Gorge Community College [where I now work where I used to work] is no exception. The college used an average of 1,880 gallons a day for irrigation, drinking water, and sanitation purposes at the Hood River campus last year – and the college is working to set a better example. “Reducing water usage on campus is a good idea,” said Jules Burton, Environmental Science faculty at the college. “Such measures can help the college save money and conserve water supplies from three groundwater springs that serve the entire city.”

Her class took on the task of understanding current water usage at the college by conducting a School Water Audit. This type of audit is a recognized standard for analyzing water sources, compiling water uses, and identifying ways to save water. There are many types of School Water Audit formats available, but the class used one called Be Water Wise created by the National Environmental Education Foundation.

The class conducted the audit at the Hood River – Indian Creek Campus, and it took two days to complete. The class evaluated indoor and outdoor water usage. Students tallied water bills, identified leaky faucets, measured sink and toilet water flow, counted spigots, and reviewed the entire irrigation system. They drafted a detailed report that identified possible water problems, and they suggested ways to save water.

“Some interesting findings are found in the summary document,” Burton reports. “The students identified ways to save water by irrigating the native trees and shrubs less and using a targeted watering scheme. They also suggested using more efficient aerators on all showerheads, sinks, and spigots at the college. One of their major goals is to ensure the college meets the EPA efficiency standards for water use, and they identified simple measures to help us meet this goal.”

The college’s Green Team – an advisory group of college staff and faculty – is now reviewing this School Water Audit information and will work to implement suggestions at the Hood River campus. Jules Burton and her Environmental Science class will be conducting another School Water Audit on The Dalles campus this spring, and the Green Team enthusiastically supports their efforts.

This green initiative is summarized with a slightly-updated quote from Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed [students] can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Water-Art Activism Hits New York City

architecture, art, community, drinking water, international, water availability, water events

It always strikes me how a small but creative idea can spread spurring people around it to see the world in a new way. Or its ability to influence individuals to engage in positive change. Word Above the Street is one such idea.

Mary Jordan wants to “draw attention to Water as a precious resource by transforming 300 rooftop water tanks in New York City into works of art”. These works of art will focus on bringing awareness to water scarcity and water sanctity around the world. Professional artists, emergent artists, and youth have been asked to submit art ideas for the tanks.


Above Photo: Word Above The Street

Positive effects of this art project will be far-reaching. Over 8.4 million NYC residents, 5 million tourists, and millions of virtual visitors will be able to see the exhibition during the summer of 2012. This may be the first time many of these people have thought about water as an important issue, and this project may inspire others to further create positive change. Right on Word Above the Street!

Live Tweets on Urban Ecology and Watershed Restoration

conference, hydrogeology, outreach, restoration

Portland, Oregon is a hotbed of ecosystem restoration in a highly urban area. Today, I am attending the 2011 Urban Ecology and Conservation Symposium at Portland State University. For the first time, I am tweeting from a conference with a focus on topics related to watersheds. Keep an eye on my twitter for updates. This conference is hosted by the Urban Ecosystem Research Consortium of Portland/Vancouver.

We all poop. We all live downstream.

sanitation, sustainability, technology, urban areas, water availability

It’s World Toilet Day, and it’s no joke. Around 2.6 billion people worldwide lack toilets and every 15 seconds a child dies from sanitation-related illnesses. But we can smile that World Toilet Day was designated by the World Toilet Organization to organize groups for positive sanitation change.

Our local World Toilet Day event in Portland, Oregon was the First Flush of a third Portland Loo built by the City of Portland. As quoted on Commissioner Leonard’s Blog, the Loo “is a modern, public urban toilet that pushes Portland into the future by making public restrooms available, safe, hygienic and sustainable.” Its sleek design makes it hip, solar-powered lights make it eco-friendly, and 24-hour status make it useful to those that need a location to use the bathroom.


Above Photo: Anna DiBenedetto

This event was supported by an exceptional organization called PHLUSH (Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human). Carol McCreary, co-founder of PHLUSH, spoke at the grand opening. PHLUSH – a group that I now volunteer with – is formed of inspiring and knowledgeable people who support sanitation for marginalized populations, research ecological-sanitation methods, and promote innovation for sanitation. We all poop. We all live downstream. Happy World Toilet Day!

Plastics in the lunchbox. Plastics in the sea.

art, community, oceans, outreach

While eating lunch at work recently, my co-worker pulled out a sandwich wrapped in a colorful sash of woven materials. This wrapper, probably part of a rice sack from a distant place, was washable and reuseable. And – I thought – perfect. Looking into my own lunchbox, plastics abounded. Sure I washed and reused a few plastic bags made from recycled plastic. But was this enough? It turns out, no. The use of plastics leaves many negative effects in our streams, rivers, and seas.

For some time, scientists have known plastics are accumulating in the ocean. A recent study found plastics are floating deeper than previously assumed. Pieces of plastic can extend 20 meters below the sea. One mass near the northwest coast of the United States is about twice the size of Alaska. These particles are ingested by fish, birds, turtles, and other marine wildlife. Often these animals do not survive.


Above Photo: G. Proskurowski, Sea Education Association

Awareness is rising fast and people – myself included – are changing plastic-ey ways. Heal the Bay is working to spread awareness in California, and many creative outreach efforts are happening in Portland. The RiPPLe effect is an annual art gala that showcases creations made of plastics and other trash collected during a river clean-up. This project was started by Jenn Rielly. The International Plastic Quilt Project is promoted by another non-profit to challenge people to live without plastic for one week. Participants collect any plastic encountered and make a quilt piece. The quilt piece becomes part of a traveling exhibit.

All of this talk about plastics and water has certainly made me think. While I might not get around to making the quilt piece, I am going to go sans plastics for a week. Let’s give this a go.

Don’t Let it Drop – PSA-a-thon Series

drinking water, film, outreach, PSA-a-thon Series, sanitation, united nations

Are you ready for your daily dose of H20 packaged into a handy-dandy Public Service Announcement? Well, I hope so. Today’s PSA is from WaterAid. It was created to encourage world leaders to make toilets a priority at the upcoming UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Summit in September 2010. Musicians playing at Glastonbury Festival were featured in the PSA.

Ten years ago, United Nations member states agreed to achieve eight MDGs by 2015 to end global poverty. MDG No. 7 includes a target to reduce – BY HALF – the number of people without safe drinking water and basic sanitation. See the recent MDG Report 2010 for more information on the status of all targets.

More PSA-maddness can be found covering rainwater harvesting in India, the LA Tap Project, a water-conservation campaign in Denver, the Tap Project 2009, Charity Water, and The World Cup, Water, and Sanitation.

The Guarani Project: Upcoming Documentary

film, groundwater, hydrogeology, south america

As you may know, I’m intrigued by new films about water. An upcoming documentary, The Guarani Project, looks to provide a balanced perspective of water-management challenges surrounding the Guarani Aquifer in South America. The Guarani Aquifer is one of the largest sources of underground water worldwide. It is shared by Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. A proposed plan to allocate this groundwater has seemed to fail. Why? How are the people who rely on this water supply affected?

My professor from OSU – Dr. Michael Campana (a hydrogeologist with considerable global experience) – shares his insights in the film. He recently wrote a post about the film on his blog WaterWired. The full documentary is forthcoming. The film-makers are seeking YOUR support in making this happen. Visit their website, Facebook, and Twitter for information. In the meantime, here are two clips from the film.

The Guarani Aquifer: a complex history, an uncertain future