Category Archives: NGOs

As Flint Lawsuits Pour in, Leaded Tap Water Found Far Afield

Flint River

Flint River in the 1970s. Image courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

I worked recently for a United Nations-affiliated international non-governmental organization in Geneva, Switzerland, named WaterLex. It specializes in finding sustainable solutions based on human rights to improve water governance worldwide. Much of its work involves educating parliamentarians and others about the human rights to water and sanitation, established in 2010, and how they can be mixed into practices such as integrated water resources management.

In that context, I was accustomed to hearing about water crises in African and South American countries where municipalities often lacked adequate infrastructure for water provision. So I started to think I knew a thing or two about a government’s obligation to realize the human right to water for its population. Then, while I was still living in Switzerland, came news of Detroit, Mich., shutting off water to customers who hadn’t paid their bills. A similar situation came to light in Baltimore, Md. In those places, a cry rose up for aggressive action to uphold the human right to water, with a focus on the issue of affordability.

In the U.S., a country where infrastructure has been in place to provide freshwater to most homes in most municipalities for more than a century, invocation of the human right to water was a surprising and unsettling thing to hear.

But the water crisis in Flint, Mich., cranks up the volume to a whole new decibel level, and rightly so. The allegations are appalling: Officials knowingly allowed households in a city of 100,000 to drink, cook and bathe in water fouled by lead and other contaminants from lead pipes corroded by polluted Flint River water, following a money-saving switch to that water source from Lake Huron and the Detroit River. Documentary filmmaker and Flint native Michael Moore, among others, is calling for criminal prosecution of Mich. Gov. Rick Snyder. With young children at risk of brain damage and other health problems, it’s not difficult to picture an approaching flood of lawsuits. Fixing Flint’s water is expected to take many years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Worse, too much lead in municipal water is not limited to Flint. News reports point out city after city in several states where aging infrastructure and improper maintenance have been creating similar problems.

Note to cities and towns: Before that water infrastructure gets to be about a century old, you have to increase the amounts of money and effort put into its upkeep or replacement. If not, you’re likely to soon be taking away your people’s human right to water, and that will always end up being a bigger bill to pay in the end. Oh, and … though it used to go without saying … don’t poison everyone.

Learn more:

Possible lead exposure-miscarriage link probed in Flint water crisis –

Mich. Gov. Rick Snyder proposed $360 million for Flint water fixChristian Science Monitor

Unsafe Lead Levels in Tap Water Not Limited to FlintThe New York Times

Amid Flint water crisis, the lawsuits are piling up – CBS/The Associated Press

How scientists failed the public in Flint water crisisLos Angeles Times

10 Things They Won’t Tell You About the Flint Water Crisis. But I Will. –

Flint Water Crisis – Wikipedia

Related posts:

Study Finds We Vastly Underestimate Water Management’s Depletion of Freshwater

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Filed under Human Right(s) to Water and Sanitation, Human rights, Law, NGOs, North America, Pollution, Rivers and Watersheds, Water Resources

Understanding Water Crises: New Resources Added


The At the Waterline blog’s Water Resources page has been updated with 12 new additions in the past few weeks, for a total of 83 links to sources of information and action on issues related to freshwater scarcity.

Check out the new additions: the World’s Water Data Engine

The CEO Water Mandate

Ceres: Mobilising Business Leadership or a Sustainable World (Issues: Water Issues)

>>> Ceres: Feeding Ourselves Thirsty: How the Food Sector Is Managing Global Water Risks (full report)

FAN: Freshwater Action Network

The Guardian: Access to clean water and sanitation around the world – mapped

LLoyd’s 360 Risk Insight: Global Water Scarcity, Risks and Challenges for Business

Water Defense

The Solutions Project (U.S. state plans for 100% clean, renewable energy)

WaterLex: Publications*

World Health Organisation (WHO): Health Topics: Water

WHO Programmes: Water Sanitation Health

(*Note: The international public-interest development organization WaterLex employs me as its head of communications. )


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Filed under Blog Changes and Updates, Climate Change, Conservation, Human rights, Law, NGOs, Research, Science, Sustainability, Technology, United Nations, Water Resources

Set Heading for World Water Week in Stockholm


In a couple of days I’ll join colleagues from WaterLex at one of the most prominent events in the world of water-related agencies, NGOs, services, and the like — World Water Week in Stockholm, which runs Aug. 31 – Sept. 5 in the Swedish capital, under the auspices of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI). The theme this year, for this and other events around the world, is “energy and water,” two vital forces that are always interconnected.

WaterLex will exhibit in a booth shared with other organizations in the Swiss Water Partnership, and we’ll also put on a lunchtime side event on Monday, Sept. 1: Water & Energy Nexus: Smart Investments to Help Realize Human Rights. Co-convened with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the event’s panel discussion will explore how wastewater reuse for energy production can serve populations’ rights to adequate sanitation and a safe and healthy environment, while also making for a valuable investment in sustainability. Check out the speakers and topics. I’ll be the guy “moderating” (more like trying to keep up) or running around with a camera, taking photos for the press materials.

It will be my first time in Stockholm, so I hope to get around town a bit. A colleague recommended the Vasa Museum, the only preserved 17th century ship in the world. It heeled over and sank only minutes into its maiden voyage in 1628, and was raised in 1961. And of course there’s a museum dedicated to Abba.

Related posts:

WaterLex: A New Role for Me, Working on Water Law and Human Rights

If You Could Advise the UN on Water, What Would You Say?

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

Water’s Place Among Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals

The Intersection of Environmental Issues and Human Rights


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Filed under Environment, Europe, Events, Human rights, Law, NGOs, Rivers and Watersheds, Sustainability, Technology, United Nations, Wastewater Treatment, Water Resources

WaterLex: A New Role for Me, Working on Water Law and Human Rights

Image: WaterLex

Image: WaterLex

Realizing that access to clean water and adequate sanitation should be a human right helped inform my decision to take on the role of head of communication for a Geneva, Switzerland-based international NGO I’ve written about in the past, WaterLex.* This blog will remain independent from the organization, but there are times when the goals of each will overlap, given the story in question, and especially pertaining to what “the human right to water” actually means.

Here’s one theoretical example of a situation, among many, where WaterLex might step in and I might be moved to write about it here: A country insists it complies with the 2010 Human Right to Water and Sanitation because some of its citizens have a source for clean water within 200 meters of their homes. In discussions, it becomes clear that those citizens are in urban and suburban areas, not rural ones. In rural areas, where most poor residents are concentrated, houses are more separated by space and geographical structures, such as hills and valleys. Given that reality, the country’s regulators assume a policy of allowing more than 1,000 meters between homes and a freshwater source is adequate. However, that assumption violates protocols governing  the human right to water and sanitation.

The mission of WaterLex is to make the human right to water and sanitation central to countries’ law and policy frameworks, by educating lawmakers and pursuing other measures. Ultimately, the mission works toward alleviating situations of chronic water stress for future generations.  You’ll see more about that on these pages as well as those at and other sources.

Read More:

 WaterLex website

Related Posts:

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

If You Could Advise the UN on Water, What Would You Say?

Water’s Place Among Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals

The Intersection of Environmental Issues and Human Rights

 *(Please note: Every mention of WaterLex will carry a note of affiliation. e.g., the author is head of communication for WaterLex.)

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

Water’s Place Among Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals



I attended the recent briefing, “Targeting water in the post-2015 development agenda,” at the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. Co-organized by UN-Water, the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), and the Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation, the event hosted international mission staff as well as members of the press, academics and others. It focused on how water issues are being addressed within the evolving debate on potential sustainable-development goals (aka SDGs), in the framework of the post-2015 development agenda. The briefing’s documents and presentations are now available online.

The idea that water should have its own complex SDG, rather than being dispersed among other goals, seemed to be widely held and agreed upon at the event. Incorporating water issues into other goals without having a separate item for it could result in water-related issues evaporating in the mix.

“Because water is  everywhere, water ends up being nowhere,” said panelist Jack Moss, senior water advisor at AquaFed: The International Federation of Private Water Operators. Water’s fearsome power in nature is not reflected in its (lack of) strength as a factor in economies, he added.

Panelists agreed that water is too often taken for granted, and not often-enough planned for in proactive and constructive ways. In other words, you consider it separately to help ensure it gets paid for.

“Any time an issue is cross-cutting, like water, you can be sure that some of your targets will be lost in other targets,” said Lesha Witmer, a steering committee member and co-coordinator of The Butterfly Effect coalition of NGOs. “If you have a dedicated goal, it can’t *not* be represented in a country’s national budget.”

The UN-Water paper “A Post-2015 Global Goal for Water: Synthesis of key findings and recommendations from UN-Water” was also presented during the event. In the 41-page report, you can see the goal taking shape. The goal, “securing sustainable water for all,” becomes mightily complex when put in the context of the world, its growing human population, economic development, pollution, climate change, public health and myriad other factors.

The Swiss government has taken a leading role on water issues, and its Swiss Position Paper on Water in the Post-2015 Agenda advocating for an explicit water goal was also presented at the briefing.

See documents and presentations from the briefing.

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, Asia, Caribbean, Climate Change, Conservation, Environment, Europe, Events, Human rights, Middle East, NGOs, North America, Oceania, Research, South America, Sustainability, United Nations, Water Resources

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 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


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

Another Voice for Water in the Blogosphere

SIWI logo

Another water blog online means another hopeful drop in the bucket for a wet and fruitful future. The Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), one of the first organizations added to this blog’s Water Resources page, has launched a water blog that, in the word’s of SIWI’s executive director, Torgny Holmgren, is aimed at “sharing knowledge to realize a water wise world.”

In the blog’s “welcome” post, on Feb. 24, Holmgren said the fast-growing SIWI enables knowledge-sharing and networking among scientists, businesses, policy makers and civil society workers. As such, Holmgren wrote, the organization’s blog will “host opinions, commentary, photos and videos … as we deliver collaborative projects to solve water issues around the globe.” Read his post.

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Filed under Environment, Europe, Law, NGOs, Water Resources

Water Resources Spotlight: Green Growth Knowledge Platform



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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Restoring Rivers: American Rivers Announces 51 Dam Removals in 2013, Builds New Interactive Map

dam removal

On Wednesday the nonprofit group American Rivers announced its list of outdated or unsafe U.S. dams removed in 2013 to restore rivers, tallying 51 projects undertaken by communities in 18 states working with nonprofit groups and state and federal agencies.

American Rivers says it had a hand in 25 of the 2013 dam removals, but tracks all removals, and is the only organization to do so. According to the group, the top states for dam removal last year were Pennsylvania (12), Oregon (eight), New Jersey (four), and, with three apiece, Maine, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Vermont.  About 1,150 dams have been removed since 1912, with most of those deconstructions occurring in the past 20 years.

Why remove dams? There are tens of thousands of them in the U.S., and quite a few are old, unsafe or no longer serve their intended purpose. As former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt once said, “on average, we have constructed one dam every day since the signing of the Declaration of Independence.” Removing them, especially those that no longer do enough for us (e.g., generating adequate amounts of reasonably clean hydropower), can restore river health, clean water, and fish and wildlife, and improve public safety and recreation. See a more complete list of reasons here.

To accompany the 2013 list, American Rivers launched an interactive map that includes all known dam removals in the United States as far back as 1936. The map features the name of the dam and river, location, year the dam was removed, and a description.

“For the first time ever, we have an interactive map that shows every dam removal that has ever happened in the U.S.,” said Devin Dotson, American Rivers’ associate director of communications. “There aren’t many things that have such a big impact on a river as a dam. They block a river, they can hurt clean water, they can hurt fish, they can hurt wildlife. American Rivers has pioneered a science-based approach to the removal of outdated dams.”

Read more from

51 dams removed to restore rivers in 2013

New interactive map: all known U.S. dam removals since 1936

Why we remove dams

Making hydropower safe for rivers

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Filed under Conservation, Dams and Hydropower, Environment, NGOs, North America, Rivers and Watersheds, Technology, Water Resources