- Who We Are
- What We Do
- Partnership Model
- Focus Areas
- Campaigns and Actions
- Public Policy
- UU College of Social Justice
- What You Can Do
- Ways to Give
- Get Involved
- Enlist Your Congregation
- Read Our Blog
- Shop in Our Store
- Media Center
- Volunteer Network Resources
- Campaign Resources
- Multimedia Resources
- Congregational Resources
Rachel Ordu Dan-Harry.'s blog posts
On UUSC’s blog, a range of contributors — from staff members to participants on experiential learning trips — share their thoughts and reflections on UUSC’s work and related topics. The views expressed by individual contributors here do not necessarily reflect the views of UUSC.
Submitted by Rachel Ordu Dan... on Wed, 04/11/2012 - 11:26am.
Climate change is an imminent threat to human rights — a disheartening truth for low-income and marginalized people around the world. Millions already battle with a host of human-rights issues, including lack of access to safe drinking water and extreme poverty. Because climate change is exacerbating the situation, activists around the world continue to call on wealthy countries to keep their commitments under the U.N. Climate Convention and support low-income countries in adapting to climate change and helping their people live a life of dignity. The Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN), a UUSC partner, is sounding that call loud and clear.
APRN and sister organization IBON International are at the forefront of the movement for just and equitable climate-change finance that supports the full realization of all human rights. What is fair climate-change finance? For APRN, it's the idea that wealthier countries should finance climate-change adaptation in a way that takes into consideration how climate change impacts human rights — especially for the most impoverished people in the world.
Recently, Maria Theresa Nera-Lauron, the coordinator of the Peoples' Movement for Climate Change, an organization founded by APRN and IBON International, participated in a panel convened by the U.N. Human Rights Council to address the adverse human-rights impacts of climate change. Speaking as an advocate for low- or no-income people, Nera-Lauron called on rich countries to take responsibility for financing essential climate-change measures. She drew attention to the fact that "human rights language is mostly absent in official climate finance discourse" even though "a human rights framework for climate finance is a very useful tool especially for climate justice advocacy."
Nera-Lauron also reminded the Human Rights Council that industrialized nations are failing to keep their promise to reduce greenhouse emissions, which means an exacerbation of the impacts of climate change and deepening poverty for millions of people. In addition, countries in the Global North are not fulfilling commitments to finance climate-change mitigation and adaptation. She advocates for a climate-change finance system that "must lead to the protection, fulfillment or redress of rights that are undermined by climate change." Such a system must also be democratically governed, democratically owned, and supportive of sustainable development, and must ensure adequate, predictable, and equitable compensation for the harms of climate change.
Meanwhile, grassroots organizations around the world are leading mitigation and adaptation efforts in their communities through projects that protect the environment, ensure food security, and promote alternative sources of income for the poor. For example, UUSC supports the Hope in Crops project in Kenya, a mitigation and adaptation project that protects the environment and supports community-driven initiatives. In addition to Nera-Lauron's suggestions, the United Nations should also support models like the Hope in Crops project to make sure that climate-change finance actually reaches those who need it most.
Submitted by Rachel Ordu Dan... on Tue, 03/20/2012 - 12:04pm.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) recently released a report indicating that the world achieved the U.N. Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for water in 2010. The goal sought to reduce by half the amount of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation, and the progress — five years ahead of the timeline — is commendable.
According to the report, more than 2 billion people gained access to an improved water source since 1990. That brings the number of people without access to safe drinking water down to 780 million worldwide — in other words, 1 in 9 people now have access to an improved water source. Efforts by governments, aid agencies like WHO and UNICEF, and human-rights organizations like UUSC are yielding tangible results. However, the picture may not be as rosy as the figures indicate. Here's why:
1. The water MDG is not synonymous with the human right to water.
The human right to water requires that governments guarantee their populations access to safe, affordable, available, and sufficient water for daily human needs. The MDG does not measure factors like affordability, sufficiency, and availability of water. For example, the report indicates that most of South Africa has met the water MDG, but there are still individuals in that country who are forced to live on 25 liters of water daily, because they don't have the money to pay for additional water. Civil-society groups there are still protesting the use of prepay meters in the country because it limits access to and affordability of sufficient water. Distance to the water source is also unaddressed by the MDG.
2. The water MDG measures access to a low standard of an "improved drinking-water source."
The WHO-UNICEF report defines improved drinking-water sources as those that "by the nature of their construction, are protected from outside contamination, particularly faecal matter." However, it admits "some of these sources may not be adequately maintained and therefore may not actually provide ‘safe drinking water.'" The report concludes that, "as a result, it is likely that the number of people using safe water supplies has been over-estimated." In lights of that, it's important that both agencies are working together to address water-quality monitoring. They are also working with the U.N. special rapporteur on the human right to water and sanitation to develop new water and sanitation goals, which will contain refined indicators for water quality, for 2015 and beyond.
3. There are worrying regional disparities in gains made for access to safe drinking water and sanitation.
Half of the people who gained access are residents of just two countries, India and China. While these countries do make up a significant portion of the world's population, the results could be a simple indication that these countries receive the most aid or official development assistance for water — while others go without. Most of Africa and Oceania will still not have met the water MDG by 2015, as you can see in the map below.
4. The rural-urban divide continues to be a huge problem.
Rural populations continue to make only modest gains in access to safe drinking water. The report shows that millions of rural dwellers still lack access to safe drinking water. In fact, the number of rural people with access to "an improved water source" in 2010 was still five times less than urban dwellers.
To conclude, the WHO and UNICEF report brings positive but sobering news. It's necessary to go beyond the news headlines to the details — where you'll see we still have a long way to go. As stated in the report, "while this tremendous achievement should be applauded, a great deal of work remains."
Submitted by Rachel Ordu Dan... on Tue, 02/21/2012 - 1:41pm.
The human right to water and sanitation is now officially law in Mexico! The president of Mexico published an amendment to article 12 of the country's constitution on February 8. The amendment provides that every person in Mexico is entitled to affordable, accessible, and safe water in sufficient amounts for domestic uses.
This is the fruit of several years of hard work by civil-society organizations that include the Habitat International Coalition of Mexico (HIC-AL), a UUSC partner and member of the Coalition of Mexican Organizations for the Right to Water. Recently, local congresses in Mexico approved the amendment and sent it to the president to for publication, the final step for constitutional recognition.
HIC-AL responded to the publication of the amendment with excitement. Maria Silvia, the legal coordinator of HIC-AL, spoke with UUSC about the victory: "We are very happy about this reform. We consider this development as an achievement of the social movement and civil-society organizations for the right to water in Mexico and the rest of the world."However, HIC-AL is mindful of the challenges that may lie ahead in terms of implementation. Silvia captured this when she added, "Today we celebrate, but we must not forget that this right, without participation and mobilization, may be useless or even worse if it becomes a tool of corporations and the interest of the powerful." She concluded with a call to action: "For this reason, we call on the diverse groups and organizations to work together and participate in the elaboration of a new water law to be passed within 360 days from the date of the publication."
Submitted by Rachel Ordu Dan... on Thu, 12/01/2011 - 11:56am.
The human right to water has scored yet another victory, this time in Kenya where a district court has determined that everyone in Kenya has a right to safe and clean water in adequate quantities.
A judge of the High Court at Embu, Kenya, said this while delivering judgment in a case brought by 1,123 people who were evicted from their lands by government officials to make way for road construction. The petitioners — among them women, children, and elderly persons — have occupied the lands since the 1940s. In spite of this, they were not given a notice of eviction or consulted by the government. They were rendered homeless when the government came with armed policemen and bulldozers, and evicted them. The police used tear gas on the petitioners and resorted to physical violence when they tried to resist the demolition of their homes. As a result, some of the petitioners were forced to live in the open, others in makeshift structures — all exposed to the elements of nature and health risks, and without access to basic necessities like food, water, and sanitation. Several children dropped out of school. In addition, 26 of the evicted individuals were over 60 years of age and forced to endure unbearable conditions.
In the decision, the court concluded that this style of eviction violated the dignity of the petitioners and their human rights. According to the court, the petitioners are entitled to the rights to adequate housing, reasonable standards of health care, and to clean and safe water in adequate quantities under the constitution of Kenya. In addition, it also ruled that the government violated the rights of the children to education.
The court also mentioned that Kenya has ratified the U.N. Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which means that the government is bound to respect, protect, and enforce the rights recognized in the covenant, including the rights to water and sanitation. In conclusion, the court awarded each person the sum of 200,000 Kenya shillings in damages and ruled that the petitioners should be allowed to return to their land.
Although the government may decide to appeal, this is a landmark decision and a victory for economic and social rights in Kenya. Kenya enacted a new constitution in 2010 that guarantees several economic and social rights, including the rights to water and sanitation. This decision represents the beginning of efforts by civil society in Kenya to ensure these rights are not just in the books but are implemented and respected by the government. Hopefully, the government of Kenya will comply with the court's decision and make sure the people affected are returned to their homes and adequately compensated.
Submitted by Rachel Ordu Dan... on Mon, 11/21/2011 - 3:04pm.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has affirmed the importance of safe drinking water and sanitation to the health and safety of every human being. In a recent decision, the court agreed that tenants have a right to water and sanitation and that a dwelling without running water is unfit for human habitation.
The case, Leo Belanger et al v. John Mulholland, was brought by tenants who lived in a trailer for several months without running water and a functioning toilet after the water pipes were damaged. When asked by the tenants to fix the water pipes, the landlord merely gave abatement on the rent and told the tenants that he had no obligation to make the repairs. He even told one of the tenants that he "was on his own with that." As a result, the tenants were forced to buy bottled water and haul water from their neighbors' homes for several months. In its ruling, the court said that lack of running water endangers human health and safety.
According to the court, any agreement for rental of a dwelling unit comes with a warranty that the dwelling is fit for human habitation. Therefore, any condition that threatens human health, such as lack of running water and a functioning toilet, constitutes a breach of this warranty. The tenants were awarded damages by the court.
This is yet another victory for the human rights to water and sanitation in the United States. Although the human rights to water and sanitation primarily call attention to the obligation of governments to ensure that all people — regardless of their status — have access to safe drinking water and sanitation, the obligation of private actors involved in water provision to respect these rights is increasingly being highlighted. This decision of the Maine Supreme Court underscores the obligation of private actors as well as the vital role water and sanitation plays in our lives every day.
Submitted by Rachel Ordu Dan... on Mon, 10/17/2011 - 10:52am.
The Habitat International Coalition (HIC-AL), a UUSC partner in Mexico, has won partial victory in one of the cases they brought to hold the government of Mexico accountable for violations of the human right to water. As a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, Mexico has human-right-to-water obligations. However, many communities in Mexico lack access to safe drinking water and sanitation. HIC-AL brought three cases on behalf of residents - represented by three courageous women - of Ampliacion Tres de Mayo, a community that was cut off a water network by the local water authority. Because of this, residents of Ampliacion Tres de Mayo relied on bottled water for drinking and cooking, and spent a significant portion of their income on water.
In the decision, the first in the history of Mexico on the human right to water, the court agreed with HIC-AL that access to safe drinking water is a human right to which Mexico has obligations. However, the court tied the right to water to ownership of property, when it concluded that the applicant, Maria Carlota Guzman, does not have a legal interest in the property for which she sought a water connection. HIC-AL has described this as a very strange interpretation of the human right to water.
On our part, we believe that the court made the conclusion in error because every individual has a right to water whether they own property or not. Nonetheless, this is a partial victory for UUSC, HIC-AL, and the community, because we have obtained the first judicial recognition of the human right to water in Mexico. This comes ahead of a bill presently before local congresses in Mexico that seeks to make access to water and sanitation a human right. In addition, because of the pressure these cases brought on the local water authority, the municipality recently installed a water line in Ampliacion Tres de Mayo, and residents of the community now receive water twice a week. This is less than what HIC-AL and the community asked for, and it certainly does not fulfill the human right to water, but they are mindful of the fact that the community had no access to water when HIC-AL and UUSC intervened. Therefore, they are very proud of the progress they have made. HIC-AL is now working hard to make sure a decision that connects the human right to water to property ownership is not repeated as another case comes up for hearing this October.
Meanwhile, HIC-AL is a member of the Coalition of Mexican Organizations for the Right to Water (COMDA), which is working on the bill that will guarantee everyone in Mexico the right to water and sanitation. The bill recently passed the Mexican Senate and is now up for approval by local congresses. According to CODMA, more than 10 million Mexicans are not connected to a public water supply.
Submitted by Rachel Ordu Dan... on Wed, 08/17/2011 - 10:10am.
A tea plantation encroaches on the Kakamega Rain Forest. Photo credit: Chrisantus Mwandihi.
The ongoing famine and drought in the Horn of Africa and in East Africa has left more than 12 million people in the region in need of urgent food aid. In Somalia, where the situation is most severe, thousands have fled their homes to seek refuge in Kenya and other East African countries. According to the United Nations, the situation is not likely to abate in the coming months. Some people have asked whether the famine was preventable. Wangari Maathai, an environmentalist and winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, answers in the affirmative. In a recent interview she gave to National Public Radio (NPR), Maathai speaks candidly about the root causes of the famine, linking it with decades of environmental degradation that governments in the region knew about but failed to stop.
"This did not happen overnight," Maathai said. "We have seen a situation where rains have not come for four years, not just because of climate change, but because of the gradual environmental degradation that is influenced by the Sahara to the north."
Several reports have linked the famine, particularly in Somalia, to decades of conflicts and lack of leadership. Maathai agrees that these are important contributing factors. However, she believes that environmental degradation, made worse by unpredictable rainfall, has over time robbed the people of food security and natural protection. Lack of leadership has meant governments have failed to protect the people. Maathai gave a very poignant example of the Ewaso Nyiro River in Kenya. The river, which flows from Mount Kenya, waters the Aberdare forest and the plains, and provides water for wildlife. "Now the river has completely dried up to dead rock, because people have been allowed to move into the forest to cut wood and establish plantations in the forest," Maathai lamented. Because of this, the forest is no longer able to harvest rainwater like before, and the rains no longer come regularly. The resulting drought has made it necessary for the government to supply water in tanks to communities in the northern part of the country. This would not have happened if they acted earlier and made sure the "the rivers flow to the people," Maathai concluded.
Maathai's comments show how grassroots efforts to prevent deforestation and encourage reforestation is important. The SoilFarm Multi-Culture Group (SFMG), a UUSC partner in Kenya, is spearheading such an effort in Kakamega through the Hope in Crops project. The goal is to protect the Kakamega Rain Forest in western Kenya from degradation and, by so doing, protect the watershed of Lake Victoria from drying up. SFMG works with schoolchildren, women, and farmers to plant indigenous trees, which help to retain water in the soil. In addition, they grow indigenous food crops that can withstand drought and adapt to changing weather patterns. Trees planted by the banks of the rivers that form part of Lake Victoria watershed purify the waters and help them maintain their natural flow.
Maathai pointed out how governments tacitly supported environmental degradation through inaction. The Kakamega Rain Forest where SFMG works provides a great example. In the 1980s, the government wanted to convert the forest into a tea plantation. Thanks to resistance by the local peoples, only portions of the forest were converted. However, a tea plantation within the rain forest is an aberration, which disrupts the magnificence of the forest and reduces the protection it provides in the environment. With UUSC's support, SFMG is working to protect the forest from further encroachment by tea plantations.
Maathai calls for grassroots efforts like her own and those of SFMG to be supported by governments and international agencies. By supporting SFMG, UUSC has already assumed leadership in this area, helping to make sure the rivers flow to the people and conserve the environment — and helping to ensure food security for local peoples.
UUSC is also working to support marginalized groups in Somalia and East Africa through its Rights in Humanitarian Crises Program. UUSC has opened an emergency fund that will help the people of East Africa and the Horn of Africa — you can help by donating to the fund. However, we hope that, going forward, policy and decision makers will listen to esteemed environmentalists like Maathai and develop preventive strategies that will support efforts by grassroots organizations already working on the ground.