The Access Initiative

Supporting vulnerable populations to obtain WASH goals through Open Government – Carole Excell and Aiden Eyakuze

Everyone deserves access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.

There is a broad consensus in the international development community that equity in the water and sanitation sector needs to be the focus of all efforts. This means prioritizing and  reaching disadvantaged populations and ensuring equitable and inclusive water sanitation and hygiene outcomes.  But countries are just not making the the right choices to prioritise  equity to get us there.  A number of  UN and other international studies indicate that even with the spending that is occurring in the WASH sector those with disabilities, indigenous communities, poor local rural communities,  and other  members of marginalized populations like migrants are the ones that still significantly  lack access to the essential services of water, sanitation and hygiene. This contrasts with significant progress in urban communities.

A 2019 study in Uganda  conducted by Twaweza  on assessing access to water and sanitation by household,  including quality and barriers to access,   found that there has been progress in the WASH sector for urban populations, 3 out of 4 Ugandans (75%) access water from an improved source including 19% have access to piped water. But progress in terms of access to piped water, between urban (42% piped) and rural (11% piped) areas, and poorer (8%) and wealthier (45%) households remains significant. In addition , households with one or more disabled members are  less likely to have access to piped water than other households (12%, compared to 21%). The problems come down to the lack of water points (36%), the distance to water sources (27%) and dirty water (25%).

The big question is why. A 2018 report from UNICEF found that governments “need to better understand who is missing out on development and why.” A lack of data about marginalized groups access is one of the first challenges governments need to address.   Despite  Sustainable Development Goal 6, on Water and Sanitation adopted in 2015 that aims to ensure water and sanitation are available and sustainable for all,   there is  still a lack of data in this area of who are the most in need at the country level.

Open government principles could help change that. To improve WASH service,  countries should commit to open government principles including on how they are setting priorities, spending their budgets,  and using accountability measures to ensure WASH programming reaches the most vulnerable.  Having commitments around open government principles can add a dimension of accountability around how government services will reach vulnerable populations.  Commitments can be made through the Open Government Partnership a voluntary partnership where governments make new commitments on transparency, participatory mechanisms, and accountability. Within the OGP WRI, Foundation Avina, Stockholm International Water Institute, Water Integrity Network and have created a Water and Open Government Community of Practice which has finalized a Open Government Declaration focusing on water and sanitation. The Open Government Water  and Sanitation Declaration is an international call to bring together water and open government reformers to mobilize ambitious action that strengthens implementation of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) service delivery. It outlines targeted recommendations that leverage transparency, participation and accountability that can be utilized through OGP and other WASH forums to increase collaboration and realize the human right to water and sanitation. The Declaration was created through an inclusive  participatory process  to bring the open government and water communities together on a concrete agenda to promote open government and WASH commitments through the Open Government Partnership to deliver on the needs of the most vulnerable for their basic rights to water and sanitation. The Declaration was drafted by a broad coalition of civil society and international organizations who acted as an advisory council including  Article 19 – Yumna Ghani ;Transparency International – Donal O’Leary ; Akvo – Peter van der Linde ;Center for Regulation Policy and Governance – Mohamad Mova Al Afghani ;African Civil Society Network on Water and Sanitation (ANEW) – Sareen Malik ; Agua y Juventud – José Jorge Enríquez ; CLOCSAS – Jose Miguel Orellana ;Young Water Solutions – Antonella Vagliente ;CENAGRAP – Segundo Guaillas ; Inter-American Development Bank – Marcello Basani .

The Declaration was completed during the COVID- 19 Pandemic which highlights the critical importance of water for health and community safety. We invite individuals and organizations to endorse the Water and Open Government Declaration and help build a movement for open government action on WASH delivery challenges. For more information about the Declaration check out the launch video here and the Declaration in Spanish or English . Endorse the Declaration with the following links

Link for English – and Spanish Firme la DECLARACIÓN DE GOBIERNO ABIERTO Y AGUA Y SANEAMIENTO: Un llamado global para fortalecer la implementación de servicios de agua, saneamiento e higiene. (      French

Governments,  Ministries , International Financial Organizations, and Water Utilities  and civil society are invited to endorse the Declaration to support countries decision-making  to be more transparent, enable inclusive participation in decision-making, improve accountability and ensure WASH services are gender- and socially inclusive. Inequity and intrinsic barriers will not just disappear by themselves,  commitment to change will be crucial to ensure that vulnerable populations can receive adequate WASH services.


A Comunidade de Prática de Água e Governo Aberto (CoP) – apoiada pela Fundação Avina, pelo Instituto Internacional de Água de Estocolmo, pela Rede de Integridade de Água e pelo Instituto de Recursos Mundiais (WRI) – tem como objetivo fortalecer os serviços de água, saneamento e higiene para todas e todos, garantindo que as necessidades das comunidades em vulnerabilidade sejam consideradas.A CoP foca em reformas de governo aberto e na potencialização de ações no marco da Aliança de Governo Aberto (AGA), uma aliança internacional voluntária para aumentar a transparência, a participação, a prestação de contas e a equidade social nos serviços de água e saneamento. Uma iniciativa conjunta da Comunidade de Prática, dos governos, da sociedade civil e dos defensores e defensoras da água é adotar a Declaração sobre Água e Governo Aberto, a qual apoiará os países a definir seus compromissos para alcançar os Objetivos de Desenvolvimento Sustentável (ODS) nessa temática para 2030. A declaração é um chamado internacional à uma ação ambiciosa na tomada de decisões  e que oferece a oportunidade de uma maior colaboração, definindo prioridades globais para buscar melhorias no acesso à água e saneamento a nível mundial


Developing an Open Government and Water Declaration

The COVID-19 pandemic has raised the need for even more urgent action for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene to be available to everyone fairly and equitably. The Water and Open Government Community of Practice (CoP), supported by Fundación Avina, Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) , Water Integrity Network (WIN) and the World Resources Institute (WRI) , aims to strengthen water and sanitation (WASH) services for all and ensure the needs of vulnerable, marginalized communities are considered. The CoP focuses on open government reforms and leveraging the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a voluntary international partnership, to increase transparency, participation, accountability and social equity in WASH.

The Community of Practice on Water and Open Government seeks your input on a new initiative. joint initiative of the CoP, governments, civil society and water advocates is the launch of new  work  to create a Water and Open Government Declaration, which will support countries in defining priority commitments for achieving their Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) on water and sanitation by 2030. The declaration will be a national and international call for ambitious action in WASH decision-making within the OGP offering an opportunity to increase collaboration and define priorities on transparent  tracking of improvements in water access ,  sanitation and hygiene worldwide.

Through the development of a Water and Open Government Declaration, we will create a baseline of minimum and progressive commitments and improve the mechanisms to achieve impact. The Declaration will be open for signature by OGP government and civil society actors, and will showcase how open government principles can improve WASH service delivery for all,with a call to adopt reforms that governments can and must achieve.
We invite you to take part in shaping this Declaration through providing your thoughts on this survey ENGLISH ( SPANISH  ( and Portuguese ( ). The survey will be open for input until the end of June 2020. This is your opportunity to play a role and participate in what this declaration should focus on. For more information contact WATEROPENGOVERNMENT@SIWI.ORG.

Fighting for Answers, Indonesia’s Poorest Communities Don’t Know What’s in Their Water

This article is the third in a series on WRI’s latest report, Thirsting for Justice: Transparency and Poor People’s Struggle for Clean Water in Indonesia, Mongolia, and Thailand. This post focuses on Indonesia, where industrial runoff is degrading the water fishermen depend on.

Roshadi Jamaludin has fished from his local pond for only three years, but everyone in his village remembers what it was like before the pulp and paper and textile mills started releasing wastewater into the Ciujung River, which fills it. Roshadi, who prefers his nickname, Adi, commented, “Long before the fishpond got affected by pollution, everything was really smooth. There was no disease on the shrimp, crab and milkfish. Their growth was also good.”

For generations, people in Adi’s village of Tengkurak, in Serang, Java, Indonesia, have relied on the Ciujung River as their daily source of water for bathing and cooking. Village fishermen set up enclosed ponds on the bank of the river to raise and sell shrimp and fish. But in the 1990s, after rapid industrialization in the area, community members noticed a significant decline in water quality and suspected that industrial wastewater was to blame. Since then, pond fishermen have noticed drastic decreases in the quality of their catch and in their income. Shrimp populations have declined, with catches falling from 30-50 kilograms to 15-20 kilograms. Adi agrees, “Daily income is not available if there is wastewater. If wastewater goes to the pond, everything is off.”

After years of trying to engage the mills and the Indonesian government through protests, meetings and even the courts, people in Serang are still fighting to restore the Ciujung and protect their livelihoods. Yet even after a 2013 government audit of the main waste contributor found multiple problems with its practices and violations of water pollution laws, the community is still struggling. They want answers about the pollutants contaminating their river and whether the companies are releasing more pollution than allowed under wastewater discharge permits.

“(We received) no notice from government when wastewater came along, came uninvited,” confirms Adi. “Information is desperately needed. When there is wastewater, come discuss in forum. Just to let me know. All is helpful.”

Transparency Laws Ineffective

Adi is not alone. Many communities throughout Indonesia and Asia are struggling to get the information they need to address the impacts from rising industrial pollution and weak enforcement of pollution control laws. As documented in WRI’s new publication, Thirsting for Justice: Transparency and Poor People’s Struggle for Clean Water in Indonesia, Mongolia and Thailand, these Asian governments have strong transparency laws that clearly require the disclosure of environmental information. But inadequate implementation and ineffective disclosure mechanisms are preventing poor, often marginalized community members from getting the local, facility-specific public health information they need.

Indonesia is trying, despite limited budgets and resources. It passed a Right to Know law in 2008 so citizens could request information from the government, implemented a public ratings program showing how industries comply with pollution control laws, and mandated the release of government environmental impact assessments, which set forth standards for private companies and monitoring requirements. It’s developing a public, online environmental database. Despite these efforts, information on local water quality is still not reaching communities like Tengkurak.

Impacts on Participation

Governments in Asia and across the world have recognized access to information as an essential prerequisite for participation and accountability. It can help build public trust in government decisions; ensure proper compliance and enforcement of laws; tailor solutions to local socio-cultural and environmental conditions, and increase a sense of ownership over the process and outcomes. Sharing information clearly with communities can inspire citizen activism and help the government as it works to identify and correct environmental problems.

But without meaningful access to information, local communities are handicapped. For Adi and other communities throughout Indonesia, Mongolia and Thailand, this lack of access is hurting their ability to protect their livelihoods and earn a living. Without the power of knowledge, they can’t hold local government and companies accountable for the impacts of contaminated water, or participate in government decisions about pollution control and enforcement that could help clean up the river.

The report cites numerous examples. In a village in Mongolia, herders fear that mining companies are polluting the Tuul River and making their livestock sick. In Thailand, independent researchers have confirmed that wells in the industrial community of Map Ta Phut are contaminated with mercury and arsenic. But without documentation of water contamination or information about the companies causing the pollution, residents don’t have the facts they need to stop them from violating their permits.

Actions to Improve Transparency

Governments, civil society and international donors have many options to improve responsiveness on water issues. They can release local water pollution information in non-technical formats, like radio broadcasts, pictures and signs that citizens can understand without translation or internet access. They can organize local environmental data and publicly provide accurate, up-to-date information about water use, health risks, and types and amounts of pollutants entering waterways, as well as company-specific data. Civil society organizations and international donors can advocate and invest in initiatives that promote better access to water pollution information.

For now, Adi watches his catches dwindle and his pond degrade. For citizens like him throughout Asia, implementing these recommendations will help ensure he gets the local, facility-specific and public health information he wants. It will ensure he has the power to fight for water justice. 

Left in the Dark on Pollution, Mongolia’s Poorest Communities Must Use Contaminated Water

This article is the second in a series on WRI’s latest report, Thirsting for Justice: Transparency and Poor People’s Struggle for Clean Water in Indonesia, Mongolia, and Thailand. This post focuses on Mongolia, where toxic chemicals from gold mining threaten residents and their herds.

Baasan Tsend, a nomadic herder living in the Mongolian gold mining region of Zaamar, suspects that the water he uses for drinking, bathing and raising his livestock is toxic. Over the past two decades, he’s watched dozens of multi-million-dollar corporations and powerful Mongolian companies pillage his ancestral homeland in search of gold. He’s seen these mines contaminate the groundwater and rivers that have sustained his family’s way of life for generations and consoled neighbors whose animals died after drinking the polluted water.

“We cannot live here,” Tsend says, holding his grandson’s hand. “It is now impossible for any human or animal to drink from that water.”

Like Tsend’s village, poor communities across Mongolia—those that still depend on local water sources—have suffered most from the water pollution that has accompanied the country’s gold rush. Lead, arsenic and other toxic chemicals released during gold extraction processes have leached into Mongolia’s groundwater and flowed untreated into rivers. Exposure to these pollutants can cause severe, long-term health effects, from skin and bladder cancers to irreversible immune system and neurological disorders.

Contaminated water also threatens Mongolian herders’ livelihoods. For many families, livestock are their primary, and often only, source of income. When their animals get sick or die from drinking bad water, herders are left with nothing. They have few financial safety nets and limited economic opportunities.

As the scramble for gold in Tsend’s village heats up again, water pollution is also on the rise across Mongolia and throughout Asia. Each year, industrial facilities dump 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, toxic sludge and other pollutants into the world’s waters, and in Asia, 80-90 percent of wastewater flows untreated back into ground and surface water sources. Yet secrecy around the amount and type of chemicals that companies discharge is still the norm, especially in Asia. Worldwide, 80 percent of countries do not provide comprehensive information on the amount of pollution that companies release into the environment.

A new WRI report, Thirsting for Justice: Transparency and Poor People’s Struggle for Clean Water in Indonesia, Mongolia, and Thailand, examines vulnerable communities’ access to water pollution information in these three countries. It finds that, like many Asian nations, Mongolia, Indonesia and Thailand have all established comprehensive laws that mandate proactive disclosure of water pollution information to the public. Mongolia’s laws, for instance, recognize citizens’ right to obtain environmental data from the government, and establish concrete steps officials must take to release this information to local communities. Yet WRI’s report shows that, despite passing these strong “right to know” laws, Mongolia, Indonesia and Thailand are putting many of their poorest communities at risk by not effectively telling them if their water is safe to use.

Resolving this environmental injustice will require these governments, and others across Asia, to address three barriers that obstruct local communities’ access to information:

Gaps in Local Water Quality Information

Across the world, people need to know if their water sources are too contaminated to drink, cook with, fish or give to their livestock. They need to understand what pollutants companies are releasing into their water sources, how these chemicals will impact their health, which companies are contaminating their waterways and what steps governments have taken to prevent further degradation. Access to this information not only allows families to make more informed choices about their water use, but also enables them to monitor industrial facilities’ compliance with environmental regulations and hold law-breaking polluters to account.

But in Mongolia, Indonesia and Thailand, the data that governments disclose concern ecosystem impacts or threats to overall water quality―not the local, facility-specific and health information that communities need. Mongolia, for instance, does not disclose individual facilities’ pollution discharges, issue permits regulating these discharges or provide companies’ compliance records. Our research partners were also unable to locate any information about health risks associated with using contaminated water, or water quality data for local sources.

In Indonesia, community members face comparable challenges accessing facility-specific information. Although their government publicly rates companies’ compliance with Indonesian environmental regulations, including water pollution controls, officials do not disclose the criteria they use to evaluate compliance. Nor do they release any information on the amount or type of pollutants that facilities dump into local waterways.

Inaccessible Water Pollution Information

The information that Indonesian, Mongolian and Thai governments do release is inaccessible to local community members, many of whom live below the poverty line and reside far from government offices. Villagers in Tsend’s hometown of Tumstii, for example, have few computers and limited internet access, making it nearly impossible for them to navigate national websites or access online databases.

Similarly, when community members in Thailand’s Rayong province submitted information requests to get water data that they couldn’t find online, officials told them that they had to search for the documents in Bangkok—a demand that shifted the burden onto poor villagers to cover travel costs and forfeit a day’s earnings.

Technical, Hard-to-Understand Data

Even when people can successfully access water pollution information, the data that governments provide is so technical that community members cannot understand it. Indonesian fishermen in Serang, a village on the Ciujung River, had to rely on civil society organizations to translate the raw data provided into pictures that they could understand. Mongolian herders also needed local nonprofits to explain the technical responses they obtained through information requests. Community members we interviewed in Thailand received official documents in English, a language they couldn’t speak.

Suffering the Consequences

Without access to pollution information, Tsend can’t protect his grandson from drinking contaminated water. He can’t determine whether it’s safer to give his herd groundwater from a well or let them drink from the river. He can’t meaningfully participate in local decision-making, pressure his government to protect his community from exploitation, or hold companies responsible for environmental violations.

Improving transparency of water pollution data will give Tsend’s village and poor communities throughout Asia access to the information their governments are legally obligated to provide and a voice in the water justice movement. It is an essential first step in claiming their right to clean water. 

In Thailand

This article is the first in a series on WRI’s latest report, Thirsting for Justice: Transparency and Poor People’s Struggle for Clean Water in Indonesia, Mongolia, and Thailand. This post focuses on a Thai community’s fight for information on industrial water pollution.

Complaints about pollution in Map Ta Phut, Thailand, a sprawling industrial estate south of Bangkok, are not new. For decades, residents have voiced concerns about the pollution pouring from more than 140 petrochemical plants, oil refineries and coal-fired power stations. Researchers from nearby organizations and international universities have confirmed local communities’ fears, discovering dangerously high levels of mercury and arsenic in their water. Many have ranked Map Ta Phut as Thailand’s number one toxic hot spot.

Exposure to these pollutants can cause serious health effects. A 2003 Thailand National Cancer Institute study found unusually high rates of cervical, blood and other cancers in Rayong Province, where Map Ta Phut is located. Provincial public health officials have also reported increased numbers of birth deformities, disabilities and chromosome abnormalities, while environmental activists have claimed that pollution from the estate caused at least 2,000 cancer-related deaths from 1996 to 2009.

Yet the Thai government has not responded to communities’ concerns about health risks or made any significant attempt to clean up the region’s water.

Nangsao Witlawan, a former oil refinery worker and Map Ta Phut resident, has stage four cervical cancer and has unanswered questions about her water. But after meeting with officials and company representatives, she still doesn’t know if the water is safe to use or contaminated.

“All the government services — municipalities, public health, the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning, and the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand — realized what has been happening with pollution in our community, but they don’t tell or give us the true information,” Witlawan says. “I’ve never received correct and clear information about the water.”

Witlawan’s story, although commonplace across Asia, is surprising in Thailand. On paper, the country has one of the world’s most advanced legal environmental disclosure regimes. Its constitution protects citizens’ right to receive information from the government before the approval or implementation of activities that might have serious environmental, health or quality-of-life impacts on their communities. Nearly ten years ago, it passed strong rules under its Freedom of Information (FOI) law that require officials to proactively disclose environmental and health information to the public. In theory, such legislation should enable Witlawan and all Map Ta Phut residents to access water pollution information. But as a new WRI report finds, implementation of these laws is ineffective, in Thailand and throughout Asia.

The report, Thirsting for Justice: Transparency and Poor People’s Struggle for Clean Water in Indonesia, Mongolia, and Thailand, analyzes vulnerable communities’ access to water pollution information in these three countries. It finds that, like many nations in the region, they have made real progress in protecting citizens’ right to environmental information and enacting laws to ensure governments release water pollution data to local communities. However, as WRI’s study illustrates, weak implementation and limited investments in information disclosure systems are undermining strong “right to know” laws in Thailand, Indonesia and Mongolia. These governments are failing to answer questions about water pollution―information they are legally required to provide.

Proactively Disclosed Information

The Thai, Mongolian and Indonesian governments have made notable progress in establishing “right to know” laws specifying the proactive disclosure of water pollution information. In Thailand, for instance, officials must release companies’ permitting documents, information on the amount of pollutants released, and explanations of public health impacts. Indonesian and Mongolian legislation also mandate that the government provide water quality data, updates on cleanup efforts and information on livelihood impacts. But new research shows that, with few exceptions, these governments are not effectively disclosing the required data, and public access to crucial water pollution information is limited.

Responses to Information Requests

Working with local partners in Thailand, Mongolia and Indonesia, WRI tested the strength of countries’ Freedom of Information laws by tracking 174 local community members’ information requests.

In Indonesia and Mongolia, government agencies ignored over half of information requests, failing to issue even a formal refusal. In some instances, officials asked community members to justify their requests before agreeing to respond, though the law does not require citizens to provide a rationale. Although the Thai government responded to 74 percent of information requests, officials took over 60 days—four times the legally mandated timeframe of 15 days—to reply. Even when officials in all three countries did respond to information requests, they often provided data that related only tangentially to citizens’ questions.

The Ramifications of Poor Implementation

In Map Ta Phut, such poor transparency is undermining public trust in the government. A neighbor of Witlawan’s, Kanis Phonnawin, worries that officials manipulate water pollution data to benefit the estate’s industries. 

“Government agencies paid very little attention to the water problems,” Phonnawin says. “Also, information about each issue released by a government agency always lacks reliability, because most of the information is biased for the sake of petrochemical factories.”

Without the trust of its citizens, a government’s capacity to implement policies, build public support for necessary reforms and enforce the law suffers. A radical shift in information sharing is needed to improve access to water pollution information, restore Phonnawin’s faith in her government, and enable Witlawan to hold companies that do not comply with environmental regulations to account. Improving transparency―not only in Thailand, but across Asia and the developing world―is a critical step forward in the water justice movement.

Environmental Justice and Democracy Failures at the Heart of Flint’s Water Crisis

by Jesse Worker and Elizabeth Moses

(this blog first appeared on

The lead crisis affecting Flint, Michigan’s drinking water has been the cause of outrage and concern in the United States since it made national headlines in October. It’s raised the issue of the widespread risk of aging drinking water infrastructure, and brought to light the way regulatory agencies dismissed complaints from citizens. Recently, the Flint Water Advisory Task Force—a panel of five public health and policy experts—released areport with 44 recommendations to remedy the failures that exposed a low-income U.S. city of 100,000 to lead poisoning for at least 18 months. The message was clear: Governance failures were at the heart of the water crisis.

The Underlying Causes of Flint’s Water Crisis

Laws and institutions that promote transparent, inclusive and accountable water quality regulation and public service delivery are widely acknowledged as essential to effective governance. Generally these include environmental democracy laws that support the public’s ability to access government-held information, to participate in policymaking and to seek justice for grievances.

However, inequities and injustices arise when these rights are available for some and not others. While the Task Force’s report places the greatest share of responsibility for the Flint water crisis with the state, it highlights governance failures at all levels, including:

  • Lack of government accountability to Flint residents: From 2011-2015, an emergency manager appointed by the governor made Flint’s municipal decisions—including the decision to switch to the Flint River for drinking water. Flint’s mayor and city council had no decision-making power, forcing residents to raise concerns directly with state and federal agencies, who were not directly accountable to residents. And in most cases, they weredismissive of residents’ concerns.

  • Failure to comply with the law: With support and approval of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), the Flint water treatment plant chose not to use anti-corrosion control treatment, despite being required to by the federal Lead and Copper Rule (LCR). State and local officials also did not conduct adequate lead testing as required by the law—which skewed results and delayed action. At the federal level, the report criticizes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to enforce compliance by state regulators in a timely fashion.

  • Insufficient regulatory protections: The Flint crisis underscored the need for EPA to move forward with its process of revising the Lead and Copper Rule to ensure compliance and address inequities in implementation that allow for environmental injustices like those in Flint to occur. Last week, theEPA issued a public statement on how it plans to address these issues while creating more transparency and accountability.

  • Unwillingness to make critical information public: The MDEQ and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services produced flawed sampling data; did not convey accurate information to the Governor’s office, the EPA or to the public; and failed to respond appropriately to information provided by medical and environmental health professionals.

Flint Is Not Alone

These sorts of governance failures are a global problem, especially for groups or communities that are politically or economically disempowered.

For example, WRI and its partners in Indonesia, Mongolia and Thailand have worked with communities dealing with water pollution. Villages along the Ciujung River in Indonesia, the Tuul River in Mongolia and the Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate in Thailand are all witnessing significant deterioration of the water they use for washing, bathing, fishing and other livelihood activities. Residents suspect these problems might be connected to industrial discharges, spurred by poor compliance and minimal enforcement of water quality and public health laws, as well as a lack of public participation in decision-making processes.

In fact, we’ve found that these communities in Asia suffer many of the same issues found in Flint, including that:

  • Government officials are not disclosing or disseminating timely, relevant and accurate information to communities so they can understand and address their environmental and public health concerns. In all three countries, for example, formal community requests to the government for pollution information failed to provide residents with the facility-specific compliance and enforcement reports they sought.

  • Community members have significant challenges engaging government officials over their concerns. In Mongolia, villagers don’t remember ever being consulted during the environmental impact assessment process required when new mines were proposed in their community.

  • It often takes protests and the involvement of outside advocacy groups and media to hold government officials accountable, monitor environmental management goals, and shape policies and practices to protect public health.

  • Despite having some water protection and public health laws on the books, it’s clear that local governments aren’t actually enforcing these laws. Poorcompliance of water discharge permits is a significant issue in Indonesia, for example.

A Need for Better Transparency and Accountability

Government agencies, even in wealthy countries, sometimes lack the incentives, capacity or leadership to fulfill their mandate of protecting public health and the environment. It is at these times that environmental democracy is so important. The public must be able to access accurate public health information, have their voices heard by responsible parties and seek accountability.

Flint residents sounded the alarm almost immediately. If they had been taken seriously and the right governance structures were in place, the crisis could have been minimized or averted. Let’s not let this same situation play out in other communities around the world.

Strengthening the Right to Information for People and the Environment

STRIPE is an important resource in countries all over the world which do not have mandatory environmental disclosure regimes that require companies to disclose the types of pollutants that are being released into air, water, and land. Currently STRIPE is being utilized in Indonesia to help local Serang communities address the water pollution from the IKPP Pulp and Paper mill in the Ciujung River. It is also being utilized in Mongolia where partners are working with two communities concerned about water pollution in the Tuul River caused by mining and poor waste water treatment. STRIPE uses the following steps to achieve its goals:

  • Assess the challenges facing local communities concerned about air and/or water pollution released from local facilities
  • Evaluate the legal framework of the country including the laws governing the pollution control, the public release of environmental information, as well as basic freedom of information laws
  • Analyze the information that is available proactively – information that should be publically available without being formally requested
  • File information requests with government agencies to obtain any further information needed on pollution emissions and permitting abd track the results
  • Utilize the information gained from the above processes to develop advocacy messages and strategies that address community concerns.

Empowering indigenous communities of Villarrica and Licanray

A Mapuche settlement in the Cautin Province, IX Region of Chile, has been affected by the emission of pollutants into the river channel, the management of the disposal of solid construction waste and the use of medication for the fish. This community is unprotected and uninformed about how can enforce their rights. Therefore, FIMA developed a campaign to advise the indigenous communities in the area of Villarica and Licanray on the drafting and presenting of an injunction before the Environmental Agency (SMA). As a result, every verified infraction was reported to the SMA and an extensive investigation is carried out. In addition, during November 2014, FIMA developed a two-day training workshop in environmental education and empowerment for the community, which was very successful.

The objectives were:

  • To ensure the awareness of the legal instruments available for the community.
  • To guarantee the protection and the safeguarding of their environmental and indigenous rights.
  • To include the community in the process and encourage the participation.

At the end of the course a forum was held to discuss all the topics, make questions and reflect about further directions. In addition, regulation and indigenous consultation were covered.

This campaign will continue with the aim to inform all the communities, and it is expected another session will be organized dedicated to the knowledge of water rights and how to protect them, and the paths available for environmental justice.

Recommendations of the High Level Committee to Review Environmental Laws in India

By Preetadhar (Posted: November 25, 2014)

Soon after the election of the new Government, a “High Level Committee” was constituted to review a list of Acts administered by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), namely: – Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 – Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 – Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 – Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 – Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981

The Committee was chaired by T.S.R. Subramanian, a former Cabinet Secretary, and comprised three other members, a retired judge of the Delhi High Court, former Secretary of the MoEF&CC and former Additional Solicitor of India.

After approximately 3 months of its constitution, and holding some regional Meetings, the Committee submitted its recommendations to the Government. We have been able to access a summary of the recommendations, which provides an insight into the possible direction of reform of framework of environmental laws in India.

Summary of Recommendations

  1. Identify and pre-specify ‘no go’ forest areas, mainly comprising “Protected Areas” and forest cover over 70% canopy.

  2. MoEF&CC to define the term ‘forest’.

  3. Offer economic incentives for increased community participation in farm and social forestry by way of promoting and proving statutory safeguards to ‘treelands’ as distinct from forest.

  4. Plantation of approved species on private lands for compensatory afforestation with facility for ‘treeland’ trading.

  5. Revise procedure for clearance under Forest (Conservation) Act to reduce the time for granting clearance, without compromising the quality of examination. For linear projects it is recommended that The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 needs amendment to consider removal of the condition of Gram Sabha approval.

  6. The compensatory afforestation (CA) guidelines be revised; CA on revenue land to be enhanced to 2:1 as against 1:1 at present; CA in degraded forest land be now fixed at 3:1; the Net Present Value (NPV) should be at least 5 times the present rates fixed. An appropriate mechanism to be created to ensure receipt of the CA funds, and their proper utilization, delinking the project proponent from the CA process, after he obtains other approvals, and discharges his CA financial obligations.

  7. The quantum of NPV for compensatory afforestation needs to be sharply increased. A reliable mechanism for ensuring that CA is actually implemented, utilising either private or forest land, needs to be put in place.

  8. Schedule 1 to be amended to include species likely to be threatened by illegal trade. An expert group should review the existing Schedules and address discrepancies relating to several species and sub species.

  9. Regarding the issue of tackling damage to agriculture and farmland, the MoEF&CC may issue circulars to all states apprising them of the legal position, suggesting that they may take appropriate action based on legal provisions.

  10. Preparation of Wildlife Management plans should be made mandatory and a provision to this effect inserted in the Wildlife Protection Act.

  11. Amend the Wildlife Protection Act [Section 26A sub section (3) and section 35(5)] so that permission from the Central Government would only be necessary when the State Government proposes to reduce the boundaries of an existing protected areas.

  12. Manufacture and possession of leg and mouth traps should be completely prohibited, except where they are required for visual display for educational purposes.

  13. Officers entrusted with the task of settlement should be given minimum tenure of 2 years. Regular review of such work should be done to ensure completion within time.

  14. ‘Expert status’ to be given to the forensic facility of Wildlife Institute of India (WII), after suitably strengthening it.

  15. Amend provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act [Section 50 and 55] to provide for adequate and purposeful delegation appropriate for faster and better prosecution in respect of a wildlife crime.

  16. Authorise officers of the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau under the MoEF&CC to file complaints in Courts.

  17. Add Polythene bags and plastic bottles as “injurious substances” and ban their use inside sanctuaries by amending the Wildlife Protection Act

  18. MoEF&CC to take immediate steps for demarcation of eco-sensitive zones around all the protected areas; States may be asked to send proposals in a time-bound manner.

  19. Delegate the powers to approve applications for bona fide observations research, through photography, including videography to the level of Park Director after verifying the credentials.

  20. The Schedules should provide appropriate provision for taking into account the needs of local festivals, subject to no harm or injury to animals.

  21. Proposals to revamp this project clearance / approval process.

  22. Create National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) at Central Level and State Environment Management Authority (SEMA) at the state level as full time processing / clearance / monitoring agencies.

  23. Proposed composition, functions and responsibilities of NEMA.

  24. Proposed composition, functions and responsibilities of SEMA.

  25. Proposed revised project approval process envisages ‘single window’ unified, streamlined, purposeful, time bound procedure.

  26. Special treatment for linear projects, power / mining and strategic border projects.

  27. Review of A/B category units, to delegate a large number brought under the purview of SEMA.

  28. The present monitoring process, exclusively based on physical inspection should be strengthened by induction of technology, measuring instruments incorporating latest improvements; the standards setting and verification systems need to be tightened, to ensure all violators are identified.

  29. (i) Create a new ‘umbrella’ law- Environmental laws (Management) Act (ELMA) – to enable creation of the institutions NEMA and SEMA. (ii)Induct the concept of ‘utmost good faith’, holding the project proponent responsible for his statements at the cost of possible adverse consequences

  30. The new law to prescribe new offences, as also for establishing special courts presided over by session judge. ‘Serious offences’ as defined to attract heavy penalties, including prosecution / arrest.

  31. Abatement of central and State Pollution Control Boards on creating of NEMA/SEMA.

  32. Suggestion for incorporation of noise pollution as an offence in Environment Protection Act.

  33. Procedure for appeals- creation of an appellate tribunal.

  34. Judicial Review role of National Green Tribunal.

  35. (i) Establish a National Environment Research Institute, through an Act of Parliament. (ii) Identify specific technical institutions / universities in India to act as technical advisors to the proposed NEMA/SEMA and other environmental enforcement agencies, to provide credible technical back-stopping for management of the environment.

  36. An Indian Environment Service may be created, as an All India Service, based on qualifications and other details prescribed by MoEF&CC/DoPT/UPSC.

  37. Encourage specialization in the Indian Forest Service in various aspects of forests and wildlife management, among the members of the service, as well as familiarity with all aspects of management of environment.

  38. The MoEF&CC may like to undertake a comprehensive review of departmental forces management policies, practices and procedures, to initiate wide-ranging improvements and reforms. This preferably should not be an internal exercise, and should include independent knowledgeable experts from India and abroad, as well as qualified researchers.

  39. The MoEF&CC may consolidate all existing EIA notifications/ circulars/ instructions into one comprehensive set of instructions. Amendments or additions may normally be done only once a year.

  40. The MoEF&CC may arrange to revamp the Environment Protection Act, by inducting relevant provisions of the Water Act, 1977 and the Air Act,1981; the latter two could be repealed, when the revamped EP Act, 1986 comes into force. This exercise may be done keeping in view the provisions of the proposed Environment Management Act.

  41. Create an Environment Reconstruction Fund for facilitating research, standard setting, education and related matters.

  42. (a) While overall responsibility vests with the ministry, the State Governments and the local bodies will play an effective role in management of the environment. (b) The Government should provide dedicated budgetary support for environmental programmes as a part of each development project in all the sectors

  43. Creation of a comprehensive database, using all instruments available, on an ongoing basis, in respect of all parameters relating to environment

  44. Environmental mapping of the country, using technology, should be undertaken as an ongoing process.

  45. Identification & recovery of environmental reconstruction cost relating to each potentially polluting unit should be built in the appraisal process.

  46. Rework the system of empanelment of ‘consultants’.

  47. A ‘green awareness’ programme needs to be sponsored, including issues relating to environment in the primary and secondary school curriculum

  48. MoEF&CC should prepare regional plan for carrying out remediation of polluted sites in consultation with the State Governments and enabling provisions should be incorporated in Environment Protection Act for financing the remediation task.

  49. Municipal Solids Waste (MSW) management has not been given requisite attention hitherto. New system and procedures for handling MSW need to be in place early for effective management of MSW and with accountability. Cities should set a target of reaching 20% of current level in 3 years time to work out a mitigation plan

  50. Concerted multi-pronged effort to not only to contain, and improve the situation of deterioration of air quality by vehicle emission.

  51. Encourage the use of science and technology, including by the approval and enforcement agencies.

  52. Finalise the CRZ demarcation, and bring it into public domain.

  53. In view of the key role played by the power sector, as also mining of various minerals in national development, NEMA may have a suitable cell, with specialisation, to speedily deal with environmental approvals in these sectors, with due regard to environmental considerations.

  54. All specified type of units would employ fully qualified technical personnel to manage their pollution control / management equipment, and to keep the emission levels within prescribed limits.

  55. MoEF&CC may consider reworking standard setting and revising a system of financial penalties and rewards to proceed to a market-related incentive system, which encourages ‘green projects’.