Category Archives: Water

Trash is Cash

If you’re looking for a meaningful way to celebrate Earth Day 2008, here’s an inspiring project worthy of your support. Taka ni Pato (“Trash is Cash”) is an income-generating, solid waste management and recycling project that removes more than 2000 tons of trash each year from a slum in Kenya.

More than 700,000 people live in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, which is large as NYC’s Central Park, yet lacks basic government services such as trash removal, sewage, and clean water. Through Taka ni Pato, however, garbage is becoming a resource in Kibera. TNP promotes solid waste management and public awareness about recycling, and creates jobs for youth that collect trash. At present, TNP engages more than 100 young people, providing them with the tools necessary to clean up their communities, creating a healthier environment while generating income for individual economic development.

If you’d like to support TNP in their efforts to create a more environmentally and economically sustainable community, click here. $25 will buy two shovels and a rake for clean ups; $75 buys a wheel barrel for transporting trash; $100 helps pay rent for land used to sort and store recyclable materials.

You should also know that TNP is but one of many important initiatives sponsored by Carolina for Kiberia – an amazing NGO run out of the University of North Carolina that was named a Time Magazine and Gates Foundation “Hero of Global Health.”

Make a difference this Earth Day! Anyone out there have a favorite environmental effort they’d like to share?

World Water Week

Did you know that lack of clean and accessible drinking water is the second largest worldwide killer of children under five? Rather than take that in as yet one more depressing stastistic, there is something you can do. UNICEF’s Tap Project is an effort that celebrates the clean and accessible drinking water available as an every day privilege to millions, while providing safe drinking water for children around the world.  

Here’s a description the Tap Project’s figurehead campaign, World Water Day:

Beginning Sunday, March 16 through Saturday, March 22, restaurants will invite their customers to donate a minimum of $1 for the tap water they would normally get for free. For every dollar raised, a child will have clean drinking water for 40 days.

Currently, UNICEF provides access to safe water and sanitation facilities while promoting safe hygiene practices in more than 90 countries. By 2015, UNICEF’s goal is to reduce the number of people without safe water and basic sanitation by 50 percent.

The Tap Project has a great website that walks you through the entire project and gives you an easy way of identifying participating restaurants in your area. (After a quick perusal, I discovered that nearly all of my favorite local eateries are part of this campaign.)

Will this effort be enough? No. Will every effort make a difference? Absolutely. Click above to learn more about World Water Week.

Thanksgiving and the Farm Bill

farm_1116.jpgThis Thanksgiving season, I’ve been thinking more and more about the complicated ways in which our food reaches our tables. In particular, I’ve been paying increasing attention to the torturous course of the 2007 Farm Bill – a critical piece of legislation that has important implications for our nation and the world.

Like most Americans, my eyelids tend to droop when I hear words like “Farm Bill,” but I have slowly come to understand that it will have a profound and wide ranging impact upon us all. In the words of Time Magazine‘s Michael Grunwald, “If you eat, drink or pay taxes – or care about the economy, the environment or our global reputation – U.S. agricultural policy is a big deal.”

For its part, Jewish tradition teaches that the means by which we sustain ourselves is a mindful and sacred process. The Torah reminds us over and over laws that the land which produces its bounty (not to mention the bounty itself) is not a commodity that belongs to the farmer. God is the source of all sustenance and accordingly, the food we collect and consume must be understood to be a part of a greater, more transcendent good.

This past week it was reported that the Farm Bill stalled in the Senate for strictly political reasons. (What else is new?) This legislation is not likely to resurface for another year – in the meantime, anyone who eats food in this country would do well to educate themselves about the impact this bill will have on their lives.

So here’s a reading list for you this Thanksgiving. In addition to the fine, thorough Grunwald article linked above (“Why Our Farm Policy is Failing”), I recommend “Farm Bill 101,” from Food and Water Watch and this editorial by Michael Pollan, author of the GREAT book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and one of the most eloquent food advocates in our country.

Oh, and Happy Day to one and all…

Land and Water, Then and Now

dead-sea.jpgFrom the week’s Torah portion, Parashat Eikev:

For the land that you are about to inherit and possess is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come. There the grain you sowed had to be watered by your own labors, like vegetable garden; but the land you are about to cross into and possess, a land of hills and valleys, soaks up its water from the rains of heaven. (Deuteronomy 11:10-11)

From the JTA, September 2, 2005:

It took the Dead Sea to breathe some life into Arab-Israeli cooperation.

On Sunday, at the U.N. World Summit on Sustainable Development, four Israeli and Jordanian government ministers presented a collaborative venture to save the Dead Sea, which has been shrinking at an alarming rate.

Under the plan, a canal would be dug to divert water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea.

Funding for the plan, which could cost up to $1 billion, would come from the World Bank. Construction is expected to begin within 12 to 18 months and take at least five years.

An additional $3 billion to $4 billion — expected to come from private sources — would be needed to construct desalination plants, which would provide water to Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians.

Hassam Nassar, Jordan’s minister of water and irrigation, said the level of the Dead Sea was dropping by over three feet a year. It already is the lowest point on the surface of the earth, 1,350 feet below sea level.

Stabilizing the level of the water would help maintain the heritage value of the Dead Sea, which has archaeological, tourism, ecological, historical and cultural value for the region and for all three of its major religions.

In recent years, U.N. conferences often have become playgrounds for Israel-bashers. But with international support required for the Dead Sea project, both Israel and Jordan believed the summit was the correct venue to inform the international community of the plan.

Initial investigations by a special binational technical task team have so far not shown any real environmental obstacles to the plan. The $10 million investigation will take around 18 months to complete.

The “Red-Dead” project faced fewer ecological difficulties than the previously proposed “Med-Dead” concept of bringing water from the Mediterranean Sea.

“Maybe this time the Dead Sea will bring life and peace to the region,” Israeli Environment Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said.

Though Israel and Jordan are officially at peace, public announcements involving ministers from the two countries are rare.

But Bassem Awadallah, Jordan’s planning minister, said this was an environmental issue, not a political one.

“We are trying to keep the project out of politics. The project will save us all, Palestinians, Israelis and Jordanians from an ecological disaster,” he said.

Awadallah added that this was an urgent environmental problem that could not wait for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

“We have to start now,” he said. “This is a natural disaster in the making and we will be criminals if we ignore it and watch the Dead Sea disappearing before our eyes.”

(Click here for a more current report on the status of the Dead Sea-Red Sea Canal Project.)

The Environment Knows No Borders

picbig-jump-2007479.jpgOne of the more inspiring aspects of the environmental movement is the way its universal focus naturally breaks down barriers between peoples and nations. In an earlier post, I wrote about the Arava Institute, a center in Israel that promotes environmental cooperation by working towards peace and sustainable development. Here’s another noteworthy environmental project from that part of the world:

According to a recent article in the Jerusalem Post, the Friends of the Earth Middle East has brokered a memorandum of understanding between Palestinian and Israeli towns that share a water source but are separated by the Green Line and the security barrier:

Friends of the Earth Middle East sponsored the event as part of its Good Water Neighbors project, which operates under the “basic understanding among all people that water is the source of life,” said Gidon Bromberg, the Friends’ Israel director. “Therefore we have a mutual dependence on managing those shared water resources. Whether in times of conflict or… in times of peace.”

“The environment knows no borders,” said Friends of the Earth Middle East Palestinian director Nadr el-Khatib.

Friends of the Earth Middle East is an organization eminently worthy of our attention and support. Originally founded in 1994 as “EcoPeace” at an historic meeting in Taba, Egypt, FoEME came about as environmental NGOs from the Middle East met with the common goal of furthering sustainable development and peace in their region. In this historic moment, Egyptian, Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian environmentalists agreed to join forces to promote environmentalism in the regional development agenda. As of 1998, EcoPeace officially became the Middle East chapter of Friends of the Earth International, the world’s largest international network of environmental organizations.

The photo of the Israeli and Palestinian mayors above about says it all. Could it be that the environmental movement will be the ones to show us the way out of this intractable and miserable conflict?

My Nalgene Vow

nalgene_big.jpgSpent last week serving on the faculty of Camp JRF, the Reconstructionist movement’s wonderful summer camp. Much to say about this very special place: the beautiful Poconos location, the devoted, multi-talented staff, the rich spiritual/educational program that pervades throughout. As a Jewish summer camper from way back myself, I am especially impressed at how devoted this camp is to the creation of a safe, caring and inclusive camp community. As Camp JRF’ers (including my two sons) will attest, it is Jewish community as it should be.

That’s all by way of lead-in to the real subject of this post: bottled water.

The Nalgene water bottle is, of course, an essential piece of camp equipment – anyone who has ever attended camp is familiar with the constant directive to campers to keep their water bottles with them and to keep them filled with tap water in order to keep dreaded dehydration at bay. Now that I’m back home, though, I’ve decided to continue following my own directive. In fact, I’ve decided to take this opportunity to swear off bottled water for good.

Why? Because I’ve known for some time that our national obsession with this particular “beverage” has profound environmental, economic, and even public health consequences. So why shouldn’t I continue to keep the Nalgene handy?

A few trenchant bullet points on the subject:

– Last year, Americans spent $15 billion on bottled water, even though bottled water isn’t healthier or safer than tap water.

– While the EPA regulates the quality of public water supplies, the agency has no authority over bottled water. Some studies indicate that certain brands of bottled water test positive for chemical and bacterial contamination at higher levels than tap water.

– One out of six people in the world has no dependable, safe drinking water. The global economy denies drinkable water to 1 billion people, while delivering to us an array of water “varieties” from around the globe, not one of which we actually need.

– Americans went through about 50 billion plastic water bottles last year, 167 for each person. We pitch into landfills 38 billion water bottles a year – more than $1 billion worth of plastic (while the recycling rate for this particular kind of plastic is only 23%).

– We’re moving 1 billion bottles of unnecessary water around a week in ships, trains, and trucks in the United States alone. That’s a weekly convoy equivalent to 37,800 18-wheelers delivering water.

Here’s a comprehensive article about the subject from a recent issue of Fast Company. Another excellent, if older, article on the subject can be found in E Magazine. If you are interested in engaging in a little “anti-bottled water activism” check out the Think Outside the Bottle campaign. (Heartfelt thanks to Lesley Williams for originally expanding my water consciousness on this issue…)