Category Archives: Human rights

Happy World Water Day 2014: Be an Advocate

Image: UN Water

Image: UN Water

World Water Day (WWD) falls annually on March 22. However, because that date is a Saturday this year, many activities will take place on Friday, March 21. This year’s theme is “water and energy.” The oft-repeated phrasse “water-energy nexus” refers to the numerous interdependencies between water and energy; the two are inextricably linked and heavily influenced by climate change.

UN-Water, the United Nations’ inter-agency coordinating mechanism for all matters related to water and sanitation, has prepared a vast array of educational materials for WWD, including an in-depth advocacy guide with myriad tips on how to share key facts and messages. The day’s main celebrations are being held in Tokyo, Japan. Among the festivities, the World Water Development Report 2014 on Water and Energy will be launched, and the UN-Water “Water for Life” Best Practices Award will be given.

Overarching messages:

  • Water requires energy and energy requires water.
  • Supplies are limited and demand is increasing.
  • Saving energy is saving water; saving water is saving energy.
  • The “bottom billion” urgently need access to both water and sanitation services, and electricity.
  • Improving water and energy efficiency in all sectors is imperative, as are coordinated, coherent and concerted policies.

Read more:

UPDATE: Officially launched: World Water Development Report 2014 on Water and Energy

UPDATE: 2014 UN-Water ‘Water for Life’ Best Practices Award goes to India and Singapore

World Water Day 2014 website

World Water Day 2014 Documents and Information Sources

UN-Water homepage

Related posts:

At the Point of ‘Peak Water,’ Our Foreseeable Future Grows Shorter

UNICEF Says Put Down Your Cell Phone for a Few Minutes to Help Kids Get Water

Mapping the World’s Most Water-Stressed Countries

Unchecked Emissions Will Drain Water Resources, Warns Leaked UN Report

The Intersection of Environmental Issues and Human Rights

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Filed under Africa, Agriculture, Asia, Caribbean, Climate Change, Conservation, Europe, Events, Human rights, Industry, Middle East, NGOs, North America, Oceania, Research, South America, Sustainability, United Nations, Water Resources, Water Shortage

UNICEF Says Put Down Your Cell Phone for a Few Minutes to Help Kids Get Water

UNICEF tap project phone

A lot of us incessantly check email, apps and websites on our smartphones. We joke, semi-seriously, about the addiction. Well, now we have help in our struggle that provides built-in motivation, because taking advantage of it will directly benefit others trapped in a far worse struggle.

Take part in UNICEF’s Tap Project, and for every 10 minutes you manage not to touch your phone, a donation will be made to provide help to the 768 million people around the world who lack access to clean water. And if you can’t put the thing down during the day, take heart: You can rack up time while you sleep. Whatever time you log, the donated funds will finance construction and maintenance of water wells, water pipes to rivers, and purification equipment, according to UNICEF.

Using the browser on your phone, go to uniceftapproject.org to take part.

Read more:

UNICEF Tap Project

Do without your phone and improve someone’s water – Fast Company Co.Exist

If you put down your cell phone for 10 minutes, a child will get a day’s worth of clean drinking water – Time

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Filed under Africa, Asia, Caribbean, Human rights, Middle East, NGOs, North America, Rivers and Watersheds, South America, United Nations, Water Resources, Water Shortage

Water Resources Spotlight: Green Growth Knowledge Platform

Image: piazzaffari.info

Image: piazzaffari.info

Last month the launch of the Green Growth Knowledge Platform (GGKP) coincided with the opening of the organization’s office at the International Environment House in Geneva, Switzerland, on Jan. 22. It was a stellar opportunity for me to get out of the house, but I missed it. So I doubled back and talked by phone with the group about its efforts.

What’s the point of GGKP? As Benjamin Simmons, the organization’s head. puts it in this succinct-yet-comprehensive overview: “Our aim is straightforward: to give policy makers, academics, experts and other professionals easy access to the most relevant green growth studies, policy analysis, guidance and data.”

It’s all about putting the best information about sustainable development and ways of reaching the goal of a “green economy” in front of the right people.  The link in the previous sentence goes to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), which boils down the definition of green economy to its essence: It’s low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive. 

“The first part of our mission is about catalyzing research in and  around green growth,” said Amanda McKee, GGKP’s communications and outreach officer, based in Washington, D.C. “The second part of our mission is to make all the research acceptable to policy makers and practitioners.”

The data in the platform covers a lot of ground. The resource library contains about 600 publications organized by sector (e.g., water) and cross-cutting theme (e.g., gender), McKee said, adding that data is also organized geographically, representing 193 countries (see the Green Growth Map).

There’s also a collaborative element aimed at filling green-growth knowledge gaps. Currently, committees are looking at four topics: trade and competitiveness, technology and innovation, measurement and indicators, and fiscal instruments.  “If we’re able to generate results from this, we’ll branch out into other topics and launch new committees,” McKee said.

And how will GGKP know if it’s succeeding in its overall mission?

“We’re in the process of developing indicators for measuring success,” McKee said. “In terms of the knowledge-generation aspect, I think the way we’ll measure success is how much of this research is  ultimately picked up by these communities. On the knowledge-management side, a sign of success would be how many policy makers or government officials are making use of resources to put in place green-growth strategies or policies.”

The GGKP was established by the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the World Bank, where it was initially “incubated,” McKee said. Those steering organizations provide in-kind contributions and part-time staffing to GGKP, while strategic funding comes from the government of Switzerland, which is providing 1.6 million CHF over three years.

GGKP’s main event is its annual conference; the next one, organized by UNEP, will take place in February 2015.  The group sometimes stages side-events at major conferences, like the “open-thinking event on the expansion of green-growth knowledge” planned for UNEP’s inaugural Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE) conference coming up in Dubai, UAE, March 4-5, McKee said.

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Filed under Climate Change, Conservation, Environment, Europe, Events, Human rights, NGOs, Pollution, Research, Science, Technology, United Nations, Water Resources

First EU Citizens’ Initiative Calls for Right to Water and Sanitation

Image: Right2Water.eu

Image: Right2Water.eu

European Union law should guarantee the right to water and sanitation, the first valid EU citizens’ initiative has said. It also called for water services not to face liberalisation, collecting 1.8 million signatures after a campaign called Right2Water, which was backed by a string of NGOs and by the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU). The activists held talks with the European Commission and MEPs on Monday in Brussels to mark the event. – Benjamin Fox, EUobserver

Read more:

Parliament kicks off debate on the legal right to water – EurActiv.com

Right2Water urges privatisation ban in first EU Citizens’ Initiative debate – European Parliament News

Interview: “Water is not a commodity, it is part of our heritage.” – European Parliament News

Right2Water website

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Filed under Europe, Human rights, Law, NGOs, United Nations, Water Resources, Water Shortage

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

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

Innovative Device Saves Lives in Philippines After Typhoon Haiyan

Image: M-100 Chlorintor, courtesy of WaterStep

Image: M-100 Chlorinator, courtesy of WaterStep

Natural disasters often knock out access to clean water, which can make thirst and disease bigger causes of death than the catastrophe itself. When a massive storm like Typhoon Haiyan strikes a large, densely populated landmass like the Philippines, the risk to health is widespread, ongoing and a huge challenge to large aid organizations.

Shipments of bottled water help, but they’re expensive to execute, they may not reach everyone, and they cause waste. That’s why WaterStep and its small water purifiers make for such a compelling story, as reported by Takepart.com and Fast Company. The Louisville, Kentucky-based nonprofit group sent 60 of its M-100 Chlorinators over to the stricken nation, piggybacked on a flight of volunteer college kids who would act as couriers. The devices would be distributed in remote areas by newly trained nonprofit workers from the Philippines’ second-largest population center, Cebu City, which was spared by Haiyan and has been a staging area for relief operations.

Each device, about the size of a 2-liter soda bottle, with tubes sticking out, can chlorinate about 1,000 gallons (3,785 liters) of water per hour, or 10,000 gallons (38,000 liters) per day, using some table salt and a basic power source, such as a car battery or a solar panel. The byproducts, chlorine and sodium hydroxide, can be mixed to make a saline solution or used separately as disinfectants.

Another technology created for WaterStep bears mentioning, though not necessarily in the context of disaster relief. The group distributes the Water Ball, a durable sphere with handles that can be filled with water and rolled.  In many parts of the world with limited access to clean water, women and children are burdened with the task of carrying water great distances daily; the Water Ball is meant to make it easier to carry more water more quickly.

Read more:

Andri Antoniades reports on WaterStep’s work in Takepart.com.

Stan Alcorn writes about WaterStep for Fast Company.

WaterStep’s technologies.

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Filed under Asia, Bottled Water, Human rights, Natural Disasters, NGOs, Oceans, Technology

Groups Slap Nestle’s Human Rights Assessment as ‘PR Stunt’

Image: Nestle S.A.

Image: Nestle S.A.

Several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are criticizing Nestlé’s recently released human rights impact report as a PR stunt that overlooks the human right to water, among other allegations, reports Caroline Scott-Thomas of FoodNavigator.com.

Vevey, Switzerland-based Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, had trumpeted that its report, released just before International Human Rights Day, was the first of its kind from a multinational corporation. It’s called “Talking the Human Rights Walk: Nestlé’s Experience Assessing Human Rights Impacts in its Business Activities.” The company’s partner in the research, the Danish Institute for Human Rights, referred to the report as a “breakthrough.”

According to Nestle, the paper “focuses on actions Nestlé has taken to improve its human rights performance at both country operations and corporate level,” and assesses data from Angola, Colombia, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Russia, Sri Lanka, and Uzbekistan.

Certain NGOs see it as little more than window dressing on the company’s reputation. Among charges surfaced in the FoodNavigator.com article: The report is selective, with a limited scope and significant omissions, and that it looks at corporate policy rather than practice. The NGOs concerned are Blue Planet Project,  FIVAS, Food and Water Watch, and Public Services International. Nestlé says it rejects the NGOs’ criticisms.

This is far from the first time Nestlé has come under fire from NGOs and other organizations. Frequently cited as the world’s largest producer of bottled water, it has been criticized for wanting to privatize water (which it denies). The company has gone to court in several places, opposed by groups trying to defend regional groundwater from being taken and sold elsewhere at a profit to others.

To those who see water a human right in a world where hundreds of millions of human don’t have enough of it, the idea of water as a commodity sold for profit by corporations seems wrong.  Several documentary films have tackled the subject, including Tapped,  Bottled Life: The Truth About Nestle’s Business With Water, and Blue Gold: World Water Wars. For the record,  Nestlé Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe has said that he believes water is a human right. But in the recent past, he struck a different tone.

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Filed under Africa, Asia, Human rights, Research, South America, Sustainability, Uncategorized, Water Resources, Water Shortage

Water Crisis Facts from International Sources Now Available

In the past day, this blog saw its new Water Resources page come online, and now it’s joined by another informative page that will be updated on a regular basis: Water Facts. Like the resources page, it’s a quick-reference guide. It gives a sense of urgent issues related to water, such as the number of people worldwide whose lack of it could be life-threatening, as well as less-dire, yet nonetheless interesting, facts (wait, it takes how many gallons of water to produce one hamburger?!)

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Filed under Agriculture, Blog Changes and Updates, Environment, Human rights, Research, Water Resources, Water Shortage

The Intersection of Environmental Issues and Human Rights

Image

The Future of Human Rights Forum, based in Geneva, Switzerland, marked International Human Rights Day, aka the 65th anniversary of the UN General Counsel’s adoption of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with a special event: its inaugural forum. The event is meant to bring together various experts, civil society organizations, journalists and members of the public to discuss innovation in response to issues of concern regarding human rights.

As a Geneva-based journalist learning about water and reIated environmental concerns, I attended the forum’s opening remarks and this morning’s discussion, entitled “Placing the Environment on the Human Rights Agenda.” It was interesting to hear the first speaker of the day drop a tantalizing tidbit in anticipation of the panel. John Pace, former head of the Research and Right to Development Branch of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, referred to the relationship between environmental issues and human rights as “a bit of a hot potato for some of us.”

Listening to the panel discussion that followed, I could understand why the topic is controversial, and why it stands to remain so for some time. There is a lot of history behind human rights development and documentation, and finding the best ways to include environmental issues will be tricky. How central can environmental issues be to human rights in general? How do experts get the language right, when modifying documentation, to ensure clarity? Can the the concept of “ecocide” as a crime gain urgency behind a public mandate and become part of the law in more countries?

The panelists: moderator Nicola Spafford Furey, vice president of Earth Focus Foundation; Polly Higgins, chairwoman, Eradicating Ecocide Global Initiative; Gonzalo Ovideo, senior advisor for social policy, International Union for Conservation of Nature; Jorge Vinuales, Harold Samuel Professor of Law and Environmental Policy at the University of Cambridge.

This blog is focused on water, which was not a main topic of the discussion, but it was used as an example that gives a sense of the scope of some of the issues discussed regarding the overlap of environment and human rights. Oviedo, echoed by Vinuales, mentioned two schools of thought: (1) people who want to protect humans from negative environmental impacts, such as toxic waste, and (2) people focused primarily on procedural environmental rights developed in the past 20 years (e.g., through the Rio Conventions).

“Something in the middle is missing,” Oviedo continued. “I think what is missing is a stronger, better way of understanding the way in which the environment is really at the bottom, is the basis of, human rights. Think of the right to water. Water comes from the function of ecosystems. If the ecosystems that ensure the cycle of water are lost, what are we going to do with the right to water? I feel we have the tools at hand today to make the environmental agenda stronger. We just have to use [them] in a more creative way.”

The focus of much of the discussion, as well as audience questions, was on Higgins’ area of expertise, the Eradicating Ecocide Environmental Initiative. It’s an intriguing idea, that destruction of ecosystems could become an international crime. In fact, it’s on the books in 10 countries, Higgins said. The term itself, first coined in a 1972 research paper, still seems little-known, but could be poised for greater fame. Read more about its history, existing laws, and more on the initiative website.

Image: The Future of Human Rights Forum

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Filed under Environment, Events, Human rights, Law, United Nations