Category Archives: Europe

WaterLex Helps Put the Human Right to Water Into New Legal Frameworks

Image: WaterLex

Image courtesy of WaterLex

One of the benefits of living in Geneva, Switzerland, is that I have access to the United Nations and international organizations that work with it. WaterLex, for example, is an international NGO that partners with UN Water. It takes an interesting, forward-looking, “lawyerly” approach to working on issues related to freshwater scarcity. The group, with a staff of seven based here, helps water-governance stakeholders in various countries establish policies and standards that comply with the human right to water and sanitation (HRWS). To do its work, the staff consults with more than 100 international experts in water management, development and law.

Many water NGOs work on access to water, helping people in water-stressed communities survive by delivering clean water, digging wells, installing pumps, and so forth. WaterLex attacks the problem close to its root and in a way that helps enable water security for future generations: It trains lawmakers and others with influence over water resources in a community, or a country, on how to implement new legal frameworks in which the human right to water is central.

WaterLex Executive Director Jean-Benoit Charrin co-founded the organization in 2010, the same year the human right to water and sanitation became fully recognized. I spoke with him on Tuesday at the WaterLex offices down the street from the Palace of Nations (UN). The rest of the staff, a mix of lawyers and operations experts, were away on missions. Although I would have liked to meet them, I’m glad they were off doing their work.

“There are four things we never want to hear people say again,” Charrin said. “That they didn’t know there was a problem. That they know there is a problem, but they don’t know how to deal with it. That they know there is a problem and how to deal with it, but they don’t know how to get the money. And finally, that they know there is a problem but they don’t care.” He paralleled the four statements succinctly with four WaterLex work areas:  providing assistance with information, capacity-building, budgeting, and accountability. Learn more about the group’s work below.

WaterLex tools (naturally, these are also on the Water Resources page):

WaterLex Legal Database on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation

WaterLex Toolkit: Integrating the Human Right to Water and Sanitation in Development Practice

Examples of WaterLex activities:

  • Worked with 10 universities to develop its online Legal Database (link above), a reference tool for policy makers that enables them to harmonize their legal frameworks with HRWS.
  • Trained more than 40 members of the Pan African Parliament on the integration of national legal frameworks with HRWS.
  • Partnered with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) to advise the government of Niger on designing a decentralized cooperation strategy that complies with human rights obligations.
  • Drafted a resolution adopted by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights clarifying legal responsibilities of states in the management of water as a result of human rights commitments.
  • Worked with the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC) to develop a toolkit and field training for water program managers in Nicaragua, Moldova and Mozambique.
  • Assisted the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) in the design of an Equity Score Card to help governments assess their population’s relative access to safe and affordable drinking water.

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Filed under Africa, Conservation, Drought, Europe, Groundwater, Human rights, Law, NGOs, Pollution, Research, Rivers and Watersheds, South America, United Nations, Water Resources, Water Shortage

EC Awards 50 Million Euros to 11 Innovative Water Projects

Image: European Commission

Image: European Commission

In Brussels on Thursday, the European Commission unveiled 11 projects slated to receive €50 million to support their innovative responses to “water-related challenges” (to put a lot of different fish in one tank, so to speak).

The projects involve 179 partners representing research organizations and private companies across 19 European countries. There’s a lot of variety in the types of work, as well. Three examples: smarter management of water distribution networks; biotech treatment of heavy metal pollution in wastewater; and new “aquaponic” systems combining aquaculture and hydroponics in agricultural production.  You can see the project names and acronyms listed in the tags accompanying this post, and more description of each project can be found here.

The funds come from the 2013 “Environment call” for projects of the European Union’s s Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7). This brings total FP7 funding for water-related projects, 2007 – 2013, to more than €1 billion. A new funding initiative rolled out this month, the Horizon 2020 program, is expected to bring another €165 million to water projects in its first round of calls.

Read more:

UPDATE: Event presentations now uploaded

European Commission press release

A summary of each of the 11 projects

European Union water policy overview

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Filed under Agriculture, Awards and Honors, Conservation, Environment, Europe, Events, Industry, Pollution, Research, Sustainability, Technology, Wastewater Treatment, Water Resources, Water Shortage

The News From Davos: Big Business Now ‘Cares’ About Climate Change

Image: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty

Image: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty

A chill runs through me whenever I hear a sample of the gaffe from Mitt Romney’s 2011 presidential campaign speech in Iowa: “Corporations are people, my friend.” He was responding to a heckler. What he said was accurate in the eyes of the law in the United States; a corporation has the legal status and rights of a person. But it’s not hard to imagine that Romney was cheerfully referring to psychopathic friends who would blithely step over your body to reach profit.

Corporations as psychopaths is not a new idea, of course. The 2003  Canadian documentary film “The Corporation” makes the case, in a clinical sense, that if corporations are people, they’re psychos. Put simply, they lack empathy for others. They focus on profit alone. The free market rewards such self-interested ruthlessness.

Judging by news from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, public opinion and, more importantly, harsh economic reality, are pushing the corporate world to see that self-preservation now actually requires reactions to climate change. Many of today’s meetings of politicians, business leaders and reps from aid organizations in Davos, and a record number for the event overall, are about climate change and sustainable business practices. That’s a lot of talk from some influential people, and now that it’s about money as much as it is about doing good (or appearing to do so), maybe it will make a difference.

And, of course, as the mainstream media has well-recorded, the actor Matt Damon received an award in Davos for his work as co-founder, with Gary White, of Water.org, which works on access to freshwater for the world’s 800+ million who lack it. Damon is one of four recipients of the WEF’s Crystal Award, for artists who have contributed to a better world. The others are Peruvian opera star Juan Diego Flórez, American violinist and conductor Lorin Maazel, and the Iranian-born artist Shirin Neshat.

Read more:

Industry awakens to the threat of climate change – The New York Times

Davos 2014: live and archived blog coverageGuardian Sustainable Business

2014 World Economic Forum: live updates from Davos – The Huffington Post

World Economic Forum 2014 Meeting – WEF

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Filed under Awards and Honors, Climate Change, Conservation, Environment, Europe, Events, Industry, NGOs, Sustainability, Water Resources, Water Shortage

On Tap Monday: Annual UN Water Conference in Spain

Image: UN Water

Image: UN Water

UN Water’s annual conference in Zaragoza, Spain, runs Monday, Jan. 13 through Thursday, Jan 16. This edition plumbs the depths of the relationship of water and energy as a run-up to World Water Day. The small city of Zaragoza is roughly midway between Madrid and Barcelona. I can’t make it to there myself, but I will be on the lookout for interesting news trickling out of the meetings.

As with a lot of UN endeavors, the full name and description of the event are a mouthful (and you can read much, much more fairly dry stuff at the website): 2014 UN-Water Annual International Zaragoza Conference. Preparing for World Water Day 2014: Partnerships for improving water and energy access, efficiency and sustainability.

Or, because it’s easier to navigate and gives a sense of the topics, you can just read the agenda.

World Water Day is March 22. Of course it has its own website, too.  The main “celebrations” — which include the release of a report and the bestowing of an award — will take place in Japan.

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Filed under Conservation, Environment, Europe, Events, Human rights, Industry, Research, Sustainability, Technology, United Nations, Wastewater Treatment, Water Resources, Water Shortage