The Water Ethics Network facilitates sharing of experience, ideas, and information about events and activities relating to water ethics. The aim is to bring an awareness of water ethics into the everyday discourse of water policies and management decisions, so that choices about water use and water ecosystem management are consciously informed by values.
Water Ethics Newsletter
   June 2014

Ethics of Open Defecation

A campaign to end open defecation has been launched by the UN with support from a who's who of WASH partners.  The program seeks to expand the supply of latrines, while changing attitudes about the acceptability of open defecation.  In his announcement, UN Deputy Secretary General, Jan Eliasson, introduced a new Sesame Street Muppet, named Raya, who will engage with children on proper latrine use and sanitation in Bangladesh, India and Nigeria.

The ethics are complex: human dignity, health (water contamination), and gender equity and safety, as women are at risk of assault (see this story from NPR).  The solutions are well known; two examples are promoting latrines through private entrepreneurs in Indonesia, (4 min. video) and government-NGO partnerships in India (video). 

Water Ethics for Geologists

The International Association for Promoting Geoethics (IAPG) promotes discussion of ethics applied to the geosciences (which includes the hydrosphere).  A new IAPG initiative is to introduce an ethical code of conduct for the profession.   "If it is true that geoethics is the investigation and reflection on the operational behavior of man towards the geosphere, it is therefore necessary to identify a criterion for the selection of values on which to base that behavior so that it is ethically correct” [Quote from S. Peppoloni et al 2012].  For additional articles on the topic of geoethics, see the Special issue of Annals of Geophysics, 2012, on the theme, “Geoethics and geological culture".

UN Watercourses Convention Enters into Force

Vietnam has become the 35th country to accede to the UN Watercourses Convention, the magic number for the convention to take effect globally.  Click for details from  What will this mean in practice?  All countries are now morally bound to comply with the general principles of the Convention.  

In a related development, delegates from 12 Arab States met in Tunis this month to consider joining the UNECE Water Convention, a more explicit version of the UN Watercourse Convention, and the logical next step in water cooperation.  Click for details about this meeting.

News Briefs

Ethics in the Water SDG.   The Zero Draft of the Post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals has been released, including a dedicated "water goal" (Goal 6) on water and sanitation.  The target is universal access to safe and affordable drinking water, sanitation and hygiene by 2030, but no mention of water ecosystems and whether they need to be healthy.  Goal 15 focuses on "terrestrial" ecosystems, but is not explicit about whether water ecosystems are covered too.  Some ethical fine-tuning may be needed.

Chile Rejects Proposed Mega-Dam.  The Patagonian region of Chile was spared from a US$10 billion mega-dam project when Ministers cancelled the permit for five controversial dams on two rivers in Patagonia.  Click for details from The Guardian.

Stockholm Industry Water Award for 2014 will go to eThekwini Water & Sanitation, a part of Durban Municipality in South Africa, for its transformative and inclusive approach to providing water and sanitation services.  Click for award annoucement.

Dialogue on Water Conflicts in Yemen.  The Hague Institute’s water diplomacy team and the Dutch embassy in Yemen held a workshop on June 5-6 in Amman, Jordan with various Yemeni stakeholders as part of the project on Water Conflicts in Yemen.

Nautilus Book Award for 2014 in the category of Ecology/Environment went to Larry Rasmussen’s Earth-Honoring Faith: Religious Ethics in a New Key (Oxford University Press) which advocates an alliance of spirituality and ecology. 

Amartya Sen promotes ethics.  At the International Conference on Ecosystems, Economy and Society, Nobel Laureate, Amartya Sen, gave a keynote speech suggesting three areas in need of progress to advance environmental goals: (1) politics, (2) ethics and morality, and (3) science.  His presentation is not available, but here is a related essay from 2004, "Why we should preserve the spotted owl".


The Ethics of Water Governance, by Luzma Fabiola Nava, is a book review of David Groenfeldt's Water Ethics: A Values Approach to Solving the Water Crisis.  The review appears in the current issue of the journal, Minding Nature.

Shared Water Challenges and Interests: The Case for Private Sector Engagement in Water Policy and Management, by the CEO Water Mandate and WWF, "addresses and refutes recent criticisms of corporate water stewardship and collective action approaches and makes a case for the role of business in advancing sustainable water management."

The Precarious State of the Hydrosphere: Why Biocultural Health Matters, by B.R. Johnston and S.J. Fiske, appears in WIREs Water, a new, open access journal about water.

The Mother of All Anti-Fracking Tools, by J. Baynham (Outside Magazine, May 26, 2014).  "The first county [district government] in the United States to outlaw fracking has an idea that could give environmentalists the upper hand—and deliver a major setback to big oil." 

Climate Change Implications for Cities (Key Findings from the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report), by ICLEI and Cambridge University, mentions "water" 59 times in 16 pages [but no mention of ethics...].

An interactive map of Africa, prepared by WaterAid shows trends in access to water and sanitation from 1990 to now, with projections to 2030.  The message is that the very slow trends of expanded access need to be accelerated to meet the SDG goal of universal access by 2030.

The Water-Energy-Food Nexus at FAO. (5MB)  This Concept Note proposes using the “nexus approach” as a framework to construct better interventions through identification of trade-offs, synergies and drivers across sectors.

Micro Finance as a WASH strategy?  A new report from UNU suggests using micro-finance to meet the “moral and practical imperative,” of water and sanitation provisioning in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Counting Each Drop: Corporate concern mounts about water supplies (from the New York Times)

Water security struggles in the Peruvian and Ecuadorian highlands, by J. Hoogesteger and others at Wageningen University, and posted 
on the Global Water Forum website, is an output of the research project, Struggling for Water Security.  

Water for friends, for free!  This report from the India Water Portal describes how upstream villages in Nagaland (NE India) provide drinking water to downstream villages at no cost and for no material compensation, reminding us that "Virtue is its own reward!".

Values and Frames in Conservation, is a new report from Common Cause and the Public Interest Research Centre, with collaboration from other UK conservation groups seeking to strengthen "the values that motivate people to protect and enjoy nature."

Social Entrepreneurship In The Water Sector:  Getting Things Done Sustainably, by R. Ziegler et al, is a book of case studies from the GETIDOS project at Greifswald University in Germany.  The cases examine the ethics and politics of innovations for sustainability in the water sector.  Click for a video case study (18 min.) in the Slovak Republic, and video interviews with some of the book's authors.

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The Water Ethics Newsletter is an initiative of the Water-Culture Institute and is made possible through a generous grant from Kalliopeia Foundation

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Featured Organizations

CGNet Swara is a communications-oriented NGO that operates a voice/phone portal in remote tribal areas of Central India, so rural citizens can report local problems and issues. To use it, they dial a central phone number, using a mobile phone which nearly everyone has.  Callers can record a new message, or listen to messages that have already been posted. Professional journalists monitor the messages and review and verify the reports before making them available for playback over the phone.  See this 2 min. video for an overview of how it works.

Smart CSOs is a coalition of Civil Society Organizations and individuals, mostly in Europe "who want to help civil society play a stronger and more effective role in supporting and catalysing the Great Transition to a truly sustainable and equitable world."  Instead of pursuing a technical policy focus, Smart CSOs aim for more radical transformative change strategies, drawing on cutting edge thinking and practice across disciplines.


Recent Events

Teaching GeoEthics Across the Geoscience Curriculum was held
June 10-13, 2014 at Chico Hot Springs, in Montana, USA, organized by the International Association for Promoting Geoethics (see feature article on left).  The program covered all aspects of geosciences, including one water case study entitled, “Does a River Have Rights?

World Mountain Forum, was held in Cusco, Peru
, May 23-24.  Click for a summary report from IISD Reporting Services.  (Water is mentioned 73 times in this 11-page report)

Corporate Water Stewardship, Collective Action, and the Post-2015 Development Agenda: Exploring the Relevance for Peru”, was the theme of the annual working conference for the CEO Water Mandate, held in Lima, Peru, on 9-10 April.  Topics included 1) responsible policy engagement and collective action, 2) human rights and business, 3) corporate water disclosure, and 4) supply chain management and sustainable agriculture.

Future Events

Water Stewardship: Local Actions Driving Global Impact, 3 July 2014 in Brussels, Belgium, sponsored by European Water Partnership

International Environment Forum for Basin Organizations, 26-28 November 2014 in Bangkok, is being organized by UNEP in cooperation with the International Network of Basin Organizations (INBO) and the Royal Thai Government.  The Forum will create a global platform for basin organizations, and other relevant actors such as international financial institutions, secretariats of multilateral environmental agreements and other UN Agencies, to work together towards stronger governance and management of transboundary freshwater bodies through the adequate integration of environmental considerations.

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Last Updated June 2014

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