New Freshwater Action Network Blog!

22/10/2010 by

The Freshwater Action Network Blog has been moved

and upgraded!

The new blog can be found at the FAN homepage:

Please join us there and let us know what you are thinking!

The Great Stink — The Thames River and the Right to Sanitation

15/10/2010 by


Banksy's image of Death is based on a 19th century etching illustrating the pestilence of The Great Stink. Photo: Adrian Pingstone.


Today is blog action day – thousands of bloggers from more than one hundred countries are all blogging about the same thing. This year that topic is water. Even for those of us who are networked everyday on this issue – this is still quite an event! As I type these words I feel a sort of extra solidarity – knowing that people who do not necessarily work on or think about these issues every day are today putting their brain power into it.

What’s not to love?

Since the subject is water, I am going to start close to home.

The River Thames in London.

But I am going to go back in time.

It’s the summer of 1858 and it is unusually hot for London. The Thames River is sluggishly flowing and stinking up the entire city.

Overflowing with sewage and bacteria the river’s stench is so thick it is stalking the city, turning corners, seeping through walls and dominating daily life. In the House of Commons, perched on the Thames, working with the stinking river so close has become impossible. Curtains are soaked in chloride of lime to mask the smell while members consider evacuating to various locations.

Then the rains come and the crisis is ameliorated but not before political leaders do their job – they appoint a select committee to report on ‘The Great Stink’ and recommend how to solve it.

The Thames has been described as ‘serene yet strong, majestic yet sedate, swift without violence, without terror great.’ At this point in history however, the Thames was full of terror – the terror of inadequate sanitation, the terror of disease.

London is different now. But around the world, diarrhoea due to inadequate sanitation and a related lack of clean and safe water claims the lives of 4,000 children a day. Clean, safe water is not possible without adequate sanitation.

Four thousand children a day.

What will the House of Commons do now?

The United Nations Human Rights Council, on serene lake Geneva and far from the stinking rivers and cesspools and indignity that more than 2.6 billion people without sanitation face, has done their part. Recently following a UN General Assembly resolution that sanitation is, like water, a human right, the UNHRC mainstreamed the right to sanitation at long last into the human rights framework as part of an adequate standard of living.

During this process, the United Kingdom stood on the floor of the Human Rights Council and noted that they do not recognise sanitation as a human right.

How quickly we forget.

History however is long. The UK government has recognized the right to water and has a track record of leading on water and sanitation funding internationally. This charitable giving is led by committed experts at the UK Department for International Development.

It is time to translate this charity into justice. Recognizing that sanitation is a human right puts the power back in the hands of people to claim what is rightfully theirs already, not just to accept what others benevolently bestow upon them. Besides being patronizing, this method of development is simply not sustainable.

If you agree, please contact the UK government and ask them to begin a process to legally recognize the right to sanitation and take their work on this issue to the next level (contact info and tips for contacting below).

After you make your call or send an email, why not join me and thousands of other around the world as the World Walks for Water this March?

The relevant offices that need to hear from you in the UK are:

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP
Telephone: 020 7238 5339

Foreign and Commonwealth Office
First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
The Rt Hon William Hague MP
Telephone: 020 7008 1500

If you are a UK citizen, contact your local MP as well! Just type your postcode into this quick form and get all the details you need.

Quick tips:

Let the person you speak with know that:
o You are aware of UK leadership in development
o You were disappointed with the UK view on the right to sanitation recently in the human rights council
o You would like to know when they will start a process to consider the recognition of the right to sanitation

Leave your contact details, particularly if you are a UK citizen. Be respectful of the person who takes your call by not taking too much of their time and not expecting them to know the details on this issue.

Let us know when you take action and leave a comment in solidarity for all those working with you around the world today!

Blog on water this Friday, October 15!

12/10/2010 by

Each year bloggers from more than 100 countries come together and blog about a single important issue, and this year’s topic is… CLEAN WATER! The event will include thousands of blogs – including the White House blog and The Official Google Blog – and they’re looking for as many blogs to participate as possible, regardless of their size and focus.

If you have a blog, please register is and join this important online event. If you do not have a blog… is this the excuse you were waiting for to start one?

I hope you’ll think about joining us — and the thousands of others — for this event. If you want more information, check out the Blog Action Day site at

If you want some support choosing an ‘angle’ or writing your blog, let us know!

Hope to see your post on the 15th!

We celebrate the Rights to Water and Sanitation!

05/10/2010 by

I mentioned a previous post how at the end of the ANEW Learning Forum on Equity and Inclusion we celebrated the passing of the United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution on the Rights to Water and Sanitation.

After the announcement we tried to capture what we were feeling about this historic occasion so we could share it.

In this short clip, ANEW member Aflodis Kagaba and I share our thoughts and excitement and in the clip below that ANEW Executive Secretary Jamillah Mwanjisi speaks briefly about what this means and then tells us to get back to work!

ANEW Learning Forum Participants in their own words

05/10/2010 by

Below two ANEW members have their say while at the Learning Forum. While at the Learning Forum I was able to interview several other participants, but with regrets, these videos did not turn out. Apologies to all as I am still learning to work the camera!

ANEW Learning Forum a great success!

05/10/2010 by

All last week I spent learning and sharing with African Civil Society Network on Water and Sanitation (ANEW) members from across Africa (above)  at the ANEW hosted Learning Forum on Equity and Inclusion in Dar es Salaam.

Though I had hoped to be able to send out regular updates to those who were not able to join and would like to learn more, internet access at the conference venue was not ideal.

It’s never to late however, so going back to the kick-off on Tuesday below is a snap shot of the week’s events.

The learning was kicked off with a keynote address by the Honorable Mark J. Mwandosya, Tanzanian Minister of Water and Irrigation. His presence was — as he credited himself — the result of the work of The Tanzania Water and Sanitation Network (TEWASNET), chaired by the dynamic Nyanzobe Hamisi Malimi, who is also a member of the ANEW board. This was a clear demonstration of the growing strength of TEWASNET and ANEW as Tanzania is right in the middle of elections — a key time for the Minister to be at only the most important events.

The press regards each other jealously as they compete for the attention of the Tanzanian minister of water.

The press came that first day too, and in addition to a full page spread in the national newspaper, Jamillah Mwanjisi, Executive Secretary of ANEW did several live television interviews.

I was honored to open be one of the speakers who welcomed the

ANEW gets a full page spread in 'This Day' a national Tanzanian newspaper

minister and opened up the conference (my remarks).

What followed was several days of learning, sharing, interrogating, surprising and inspiring each other and a lot of furious note-taking about how to best use what we all learned from our colleagues in our own work.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the Forum, after discussing equity and inclusion and the importance of the rights to water and sanitation for days was the timely news during the closing session that the United Nations Human Rights Council has passed a resolution — by consensus — recognizing both rights and linking them to the right to an adequate standard of living. It was a great final moment to share with each other!

ANEW will be producing a report on the outcomes of the Learning Forum and in the next few days I will share a draft outline of our final learning session by email with the network and with any others who are interested. We worked very hard in that last session to consolidate several days worth of key lessons and to celebrate the resolution and our work together — as you can see in the photos! Kolleen

Waiting for the learning to start...

Discussing the question: Why are human rights important?

The discussions get intense.

Enjoying colleagues.

ANEW Learning Forum — opening remarks

05/10/2010 by

Below please find my message to the ANEW Learning Forum as it kicked off in Dar es Salaam last week (shortened slightly). I was honored to speak on behalf of Freshwater Action Network and grateful to my colleagues from ANEW for inviting me. More on the ANEW Learning Forum in the next several blog posts!

…As you know, ANEW is a network of networks. At the international level Freshwater Action Network works to not only support the capacity development of individual networks like ANEW but to facilitate learning, sharing and strategic advocacy across all of the networks. Thus, one of the key aims of the FAN secretariat is to be a link between the local and the global ensuring that the relevant learnings, strategies and viewpoints are heard at the international level particularly as and before important policy and funding decisions are taken.

That is why I am here this week. To learn from all of you. The learning that we will share in the next few days, the tough questions that we will ask, and the analysis of each other’s work and the broad concepts we have come to discuss is critical for my work, critical for the work all of us are doing.

Recently, for example, as some of you will know from following the FAN blog, I had the opportunity to go to Geneva to lobby Human Rights Council members on a resolution on the rights to water and sanitation. This was a resolution following the UN General Assemblies historic recognition of these rights. It is in these international forums where it is particularly important that I am able to understand and articulate the work that all of you are doing and the ways in which policy needs to reflect and support and be a tool for that work.

Documenting and sharing our work as we have done to be part of this Forum and as we will do this week is so important. By documenting and sharing our learning and by continuing to learn from the work of others we do each other and the people we work with in our communities, countries and regions a great service. By sharing our work, and in particular not just the successes, but also the challenges, the hardships, the reversals and the setbacks we strengthen our own ability to solve complex problems and to be more effective and at the same time we provide our colleagues with important tools, insight and of course – solidarity. I hope that you believe as I do that it is important to have these links, to work in networks not only at a continental level but also at the international level. And as well, I hope that you will share your work in its entirety this week. Not just the successes but also the unintended consequences and the hardships that you are working to overcome.

As some of you may know, the FAN Secretariat also works to develop tools for the sector and we are just about to complete two tools – one is an activist handbook for using the rights to water and sanitation and the other is a handbook for working with and influencing World Bank staff in the sector. I am grateful for the input of some of you already given as we developed these tools and I hope that as we roll out these two handbooks, which as members of FAN all of you will all receive with your next newsletter, you will be able to use them in your work and give us feedback so that we can continue to adapt and improve them.

I have the pleasure of already knowing many of you and being familiar with your work. This week I will continue to learn from you, to meet more of you. I look forward to sharing my challenges and triumphs with all of you and hearing about the innovative work that you are doing.

I would finally to reflect on the fact that over the last few years with the trainings, learning, information that ANEW and national level networks like TEWASNET have been providing and coordinating we have all gotten quite used to doing things this way, to having ANEW as a support and a resource for our country networks or our organizational work. It’s useful to reflect though that meeting like this is an innovation in the sector that we should celebrate – an innovation that depends on all of us to be willing to collaborate and work together. Being part of ANEW and being here this week working hard will strengthen all of our work and ultimately increase access in the WASH sector – and that is after all why we are all here. I look forward to working with all of you and celebrating our work together this week!

‘We’ve been working towards this moment for a decade’

30/09/2010 by

Today is a momentous day for all of us working on the rights to water and sanitation. The rights to water and sanitation have finally been made legally binding in international law with a resolution passed at the Human Rights Council.

Well done to everyone who has contributed to this outcome!! The rights to water and sanitation is the most important theme for the network and from the early days FAN members have been lobbying governments to recognize water as a human right. As Danielle said in FAN’s press release on the resolution, ‘we’ve been working towards this moment for a decade’.

Since the resolution was first announced at the beginning of September, we’ve all been working hard to influence our governments in country and at the council itself in Geneva and this time it’s all been worthwhile, we’ve made a true impact, fantastic!! Let’s keep up the good work and make sure we put this to good use by ensuring governments fulfill their legal responsibilities.

Read our press release for more info

Also, keep an eye out for the Activist’s Handbook,  a comprehensive guide to how to mainstream rights into your work which we’ll be launching very soon.

Grassroots to Geneva — my few days at the United Nations

14/09/2010 by

Guest Blogger: Mr. Josiah Omotto from Umande Trust and KEWASNET in Kenya shares his thoughts and experience while in Geneva for the UN consultation on good practice in water, sanitation and human rights.

Being here has been a tremendous opportunity!

When we first heard about this consultation from Freshwater Action Network we decided that we would fill out the questionnaire on good practice as a team – all of us from the technical, community partnership to the policy units. It was an elaborate questionnaire and was a very useful process for reflecting on our work and thinking through what we really mean when we say things like accessibility, availability and affordability. We didn’t expect anything to come from our submission but we thought that it was worth it – we learned a great deal from the process.   

Now, months later I am here at the United Nations in Geneva benefitting so much from the experiences of others who have come from around the world – it is like a supermarket of ideas! My notebook is full with so many innovative and replicable lessons and ways of doing things. Every presentation has been full of new things that to learn and to be reminded of and reflect on. Community Led Total Sanitation for example – we have been doing this subconsciously but I really appreciated being reminded by Mr. Shahim Halim, from VERC and FANSA in Bangladesh about the philosophy behind total coverage. I thought the link made by the delegate from Burkina Faso between water and agriculture was useful because we need to make these links more in our work as well as to link more with the Millennium Development Goals.

The Independent Expert (far left), Josiah Omotto (far right) and other participants enjoy a preview of presentations to come

I was impressed by the breadth of the work on Afghanistan – it was a shock for me actually as all I know about Afghanistan, all I hear, is about war and here we heard a fabulous presentation on what is happening with biosan filters and so much more. I learned a lot from colleagues from Ecuador and Argentina about their particular circumstances and the sophisticated legal advocacy they are doing and learned that my colleagues from Bangladesh, Mr. Halim and Mr. Ranajit Das from DSK, have similar challenges – and we can discuss solutions together and support each other.

Our colleague from France spoke about how 3% of water bills go to support the poor and that is one thing that has really stuck with me. I think that we can look into something like this in Kenya now as we have just approved our constitution and need to move from our work on constitutional reform to regulation, standards and good policies necessary for implementation of this important document.

Even beyond all of this learning and sharing, I really enjoyed the time Ispent with others one-on-one in the breaks. I have gained a lot from the people here and their clear thinking and thoughtful consideration of our work.  

Participants listen in the consultation room

The opportunity to be here and to have this kind of access and be able to share our experience on human rights is a rare privilege. As we are grassroots, we never have this kind of access at big international meetings. This opportunity also came at the perfect time for me to use it to celebrate our recent achievements in Kenya. We have been working to get a constitution since 1979 and coming here just after this has been accomplished and sharing what I have learned from decades of struggle and experience in governance and rights is remarkable. That is why I asked everyone to clap for Kenya at the beginning of my presentation. I am very proud of achieving this after so many decades and it has meant a lot to share it with so many from around the world who understand the struggle and the relevance to our work and our future.

FAN Advocacy Action and Learning Officer Kolleen Bouchane listens to the discussion

This consultation and realizing the rights to water and sanitation is important for many reasons, in particular because it sets the legal framework necessary for respecting and protecting the rights of people to live in dignity and it is critical for joining up what is happening all levels – enabling us to build and international movement that will result in access for all. Significantly, the work of the Independent Expert has been not only about informing communities, it has been about listening – about considering the work that we are doing at the grassroots as relevant and important to the United Nations process. It is this serious listening to all of us that tells me that this is a serious and meaningful process that will impact and support our work.

I would like to thank the Freshwater Action Network for informing me about this opportunity. And I would like to say to the FAN Secretariat – do not give up! I know that those of us in the field do not always provide feedback on the information that you are sending around and we do not always have time to contribute but we are gross consumers of your information products. I learned about this work on human rights in the United Nations from FAN, I learned how it is relevant to me and I learned how to influence a big process by continuing to do my work, reflect on my work and share it with others.  FAN information is like my daily newspaper – we are all FAN members out there listening and learning even when you do not hear from us, even then we are benefitting and working together.  So thank you to the FAN Secretariat and to FAN members everywhere for continuing to share your work. It is invaluable to my own.  

Josiah Omotto, Umande Trust and KEWASNET, Kenya

The Independent Expert and consulation participants


Enjoying the break - partipants continue to share

Note from Kolleen: What’s next? Now that the consultation with CSOs is over, the Independent Expert will prepare to address the council about her work this year. This will most likely happen tomorrow afternoon (September 15). The United Nations Human Rights Council consideration of the resolution on human rights to water and sanitation will continue this week with another ;’open informal ‘ (most likely on the 16 or 17) where the text of the resolution is negotiated.  

If you have not already spoken with you country government, please take action using the information and tools in in our last few blogs. Many of governments of FAN members voted courageously in the recent UN General Assembly resolution so the key message to them is: Thank you! Please come to the ‘open informals’ where the text of the resolution is negotiated and speak out in support of retaining the text and passing this important resolution by consensus.

This week in Geneva: consultation and action on the rights to water and sanitation

13/09/2010 by

In July 2010, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution that ‘Recognizes the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.’

Within the resolution, the work of the U.N. Independent Expert (IE) on human rights related to water and sanitation was acknowledged and it was noted that her rights work should continue in Geneva. As the 15th session of the U.N. Human Rights Council gets underway, the Council will hopefully begin the implementation of these rights by passing an important resolution acknowledging the work of the General Assembly and clarifying that these rights are implicitly contained in Article 11 of the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

While practitioners and advocates around the world are engaging their country governments urging them to actively support this resolution, the IE is hosting a consulation with civil society organizations (CSOs) on good practices in water, sanitation and human rights to continue to create an enabling environment in which these rights can be realized.

So for the next four days or so I am camped out in Geneva — literally, as Geneva hotels are booked full from tomorrow night and I have brought my sleeping bag and the hope that other advocates will be generous!

I am gathering information, networking and hoping to influence the outcome of this current resolution. What is needed is a strong consensus document recalling the UN General Assembly recognition of these rights and as noted above, clarifying that these rights are implicitly contained in Article 11 of the ICESCR.

One frustrating thing about this process is that the unplanned nature of what are called the ‘open informals’ where the members of the committee work with and negotiate the draft text of the resolution. Although these meetings are ‘open’ and CSOs are able to listen and even intervene, the meetings are scheduled so quickly — with days notice — that it would be impossible for anyone not based in Europe to quickly attend and influence. This is why it is so important that we all work together.

On a very positive note, this morning as I waited for the necessary security clearances to get into the U.N., I met two FAN members here for the CSO consulation. Mr. Josiah Omotto, from Umande Trust and KEWASNET in Nairobi, and Ms. Chitralekha Choudury from Gram Vikas and FANSA in India – both of whom are FAN Governance and Transparency programme partners. Tomorrow, these partners, will present on their experience in rural (Ms. Choudury) and urban (Mr. Omotto) work on rights to water and sanitation. There will be several other fabulous presenters including Moses Kulaba from Norwegian Church Aid and TEWASNET in Tanzania who will present work on public expenditure tracking. I caught Mr. Kulaba in the hallway this afternoon and asked him to share a successful  advocacy activity with all of you. His advocacy share (involving photography and toilets) is in the video below.

The next two days are a tremendous opportunity to input into the research of the Independent Expert and to learn from the good practices of colleagues around the world. Following this many of us will take to the halls to discuss the resolution with members of the Human Rights Council while many of you contact your country offices and tell them concretely what this resolution and the rights to water and sanitation mean to your work and your country. Time is short! The  resolution will be ‘tabled’ on 23 September.

As we dig into the subject of human rights on water and sanitation again tomorrow I am hoping that the above participants and others will have some time to share their own thoughts with you directly through this blog … so we can work together to keep you posted on what is happening here in Geneva.

Before you watch and listen to Moses Kabala and the toilet photo campaign below, take action on the resolution on human rights to water and sanitation!