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

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

HorizontalLogo-600x105

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

Advertisements
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.

1012671_211650325651329_120746204_n
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?

10680
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?

4606483974_0ed1ec91c9_n
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.

800px-Palestinian_children_in_Jenin
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!

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.

community, desalination, united states

Desalination in California: Coming to a City Near You

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.

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

Water-Art Activism Hits New York City

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!

art, community, oceans, outreach

Plastics in the lunchbox. Plastics in the sea.

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.

africa, community, drinking water, international, outreach, PSA-a-thon Series, sanitation, south africa, video, water availability

The World Cup, Water, and Sanitation – PSA-a-thon Series

Many around the world have just finished watching the USA vs. Algeria game in South Africa. USA won the match (1-0) and will be able to continue to play in the 2010 World Cup. I’m happy with the final score (sorry, Algeria) but not so happy about something else. During the time of each World Cup match, around 140 children in Africa will die from diarrheal illnesses related to dirty water and a lack of toilets.

One organization, Wash-United, hopes people will become more aware of these issues during the 2010 World Cup. They have enlisted football greats like Didier Drogba, Nwankwo Kanu, and Stephen Appiah and created Public Service Announcements (PSAs) to help the spread the world. Enjoy these PSAs as part of the PSA-a-thon Series, and keep watching and rooting for your favorite teams.

Football Greats for Safe Water and Sanitation

Desmond Tutu for Safe Water and Sanitation

Can’t get enough? The other five PSAs in the series cover rainwater harvesting in India, the LA Tap Project, a water-conservation campaign in Denver, the Tap Project 2009, and Charity Water.

agriculture, community, gender, women

Tribute to Women and Water by IWMI

Stunning and breathtaking visual imagery of women from around the world using water for drinking, cleaning, cooking, growing, working, praying, and living. This striking video was produced by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) for International Women’s Day on March 8th. The video is posted on their new Gender Topics page.

community, donation, drinking water, natural disaster, ngo, outreach, unicef, united nations

Disaster in Haiti: Loss of Life and Lack of Water

A catastrophic earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010. The 7.0 magnitude quake was centered offshore the populated capital of Port-au-Prince. One of ten deadliest in history, causalities range from 50,000 to 200,000 people. Almost three million of the country’s nine million people are affected, and many are still trapped in the rubble. Aid efforts have been hampered by the scale of impact and current instability of the Haitian government.

Survivors are in desperate need of drinking water. Running water is not available due to damaged pipes. A lack of clean drinking water after this type of disaster can lead to dehydration and widespread waterborne illnesses. The Government of Haiti commandeered two water treatment facilities and is sending water to the capital in trucks. Four US ships are en route with desalination units to produce 25,000 liters of water a day. Another aircraft carrier, stationed off the coast, can produce 35,000 liters of water a day. Two NGOs, Water Missions International and Oxfam, left water-filtration systems in the country. Red Cross is dispensing bottled water, food, and medical supplies. UNICEF is distributing water and sanitation supplies to help protect the health of children.


Above Photo: Survivors collecting water from a broken water main in Haiti. Courtesy United Nations Photo on flickr.

The best way to help victims in Haiti is through monetary donations! To donate for a variety relief efforts, please see these links on Water Wired. To donate for water-related relief efforts, please see the links below:

Water Missions International
Previously established in the country to work on water-supply concerns, they shipped 10 desalination units to the region after the quake. They are collecting money for water-related relief efforts.

Water.org
In September 2009, this organization committed to provide safe drinking water to 50,000 people in Haiti. Now they are helping re-establish local water-focused NGOs. They are collecting donations to restore/expand water services in Haiti.

UNICEF
UNICEF is focused on distributing supplies related to water and sanitation, therapeutic food for infants and small children, medical supplies, and temporary shelter. They just appealed for donations of 120 million USD to help with relief efforts in Haiti.

CARE
This long-standing NGO is distributing emergency water purification tablets to local hospitals. They will distribute water purification tablets, buckets with covers, jerry cans and other water containers, hygiene kits, high-energy biscuits, plastic sheeting and cooking kits to 50,000 to 75,000 people in Haiti.

Oxfam
This well-known organization recognizes that clean drinking water is “the most immediate problem.” They are shipping 10 tons of water, sanitation, health, and shelter equipment to the area and collecting donations for these endeavors.

charity: water
This NGO, based out of New York City, is dedicated to raising money for water-supply projects in developing nations. They are accepting donations for health-related (that is, water, sanitation, etc.) and general efforts for partner NGOs in Haiti.

article, community, drinking water, economy, gender, outreach, women

‘Women Need Water Rights, Not Just Technologies’ by Masum Momaya

Just finished an interesting article examining roles and limitations of technology for solving problems in water access, planning, and management for women around the world.

“In poor communities, technologies are often touted as panaceas for poverty. For women in productive and reproductive roles, technologies, such as those for fetching and storing water, can make daily tasks easier. But do such technologies actually ensure women’s rights?”

Read the article called Women Need Water Rights Not Just Technologies by Masum Momaya on the AWID website.


Above Photo: Two women washing clothes in a canal in Tamil Nadu.

community, india, outreach, photos

Guest Post: Photo Essay on Water Loss due to Leaks

A guest blog post originally published on the India Water Portal (IWP) by my friend and colleague Praveena Sridhar. She has given me permission to re-publish her beautiful pictures and insightful post about water leakage in India.

As I had been waking up to a leaky tap in my new house for quite some time, I thought it would be interesting to look at the different ways water gets wasted. In this post, I attempt to do a photo blog from my past photo collections on this subject from different parts of the country.

Tanker Leak
This is an image of a leaking pipe from a tanker used by Municipality to provide water in areas with water shortage in Mulbagal, Karnataka. I took this photo during a project visit to the town few weeks ago.

Leaking Stand Post
This is an image of water leaking from a community stand post, again in Mulbagal. Mulbagal is the town where the pilot project for Integrated Urban Water Management is being planned and implemented by Arghyam in partnership with various organizations. I will write more on this project in the next post.

Leaking Bore Well
This is an image of water leakage from a municipal bore well. Don’t think, from looking at the operator’s hand, that he has opened the bore. He is actually yet to open it! This is how the pipe is without opening the hose. This photo is again from Mulbagal taken during a water sample collection for water quality testing.

Although all the above images are from Mulbagal, it’s not just in Mulbagal such cases of leaks are found from tankers, stand posts or bore wells. It is a scene which one comes across quite often through the country.

Leaking Kolkata
Kolkata, the city of joy, is a wonderful place. It lets everyone with any economic background live well. The above is a photo from Kolkata where such hoses are found all through the city on the main roads. These hoses are left on for two hours in the morning and evening. The purposes of such hoses are to provide water for the people who live on the roads and slums to clean themselves and to meet their domestic needs. It is very noble thought and well appreciated, but the municipality could have given a knob to open and close these taps. Whoever wants to use the water can use it even when there are knobs. What is the need to let such open hoses go for two hours in the morning and evening go on nonstop?

Leaking Screw Tap
This is a knob of one of the water pipes used to clean the train toilets when the train reaches a particular railway station designated for cleaning. This photo is taken on one such railway station.

Leaking Steam Engine
This is a photo of a steam engine of the toy train which runs between Metupalayam and Ooty. This belongs to Nilgiris Mountain Railways which is one of the oldest railways in India. This engine is not run on coal but is modified to run Diesel. Diesel produces the steam by boiling the water instead of the coal used in the olden days. This toy train has to be refilled with water at one of the stations in-between Metupalayam and Ooty. This is a photograph of one such refill on the Hillgrove station. A ride on this toy train a pleasurable one, it takes you into the past, gives one a feel of the place during the 1940s. But do we really need to waste water for the pleasure?

It may be a very easy question for me to ask sitting in front of the computer, writing my thoughts. What really needs to be done to reduce such water leaks? How do we address these water losses? It is not an easy answer. The solution is a mix of technology, awareness generation in community, and creation of monitoring systems to check such leaks in systems by the governments.

Note: Next post will be about my visit to Mulbagal and the Integrated Urban Water Management Pilot Project conducted there.

Stay tuned to her posts on the IWP by checking this link for updates.