The Our Oceans Conference takes place this week in Washington, D.C. Organized by the U.S. State Department at the request of Secretary of State John Kerry, this international event will bring together youth activists, environmentalists and political leaders from many countries to discuss marine pollution, sustainable fisheries and marine protected areas as well as the impact of climate change on all of these. Having for decades advocated for increased U.S. funding for clean water and sanitation programs and supported at risk communities around the world, our team at CWS views this conference as is a timely, strategic event.
Everything ends up in the ocean. We like to say out of sight, out of mind when we would prefer not to consider something. For example, when we throw our trash away, or flush the toilet, we promptly move on with the rest of our day after it’s gone. We take very much for granted the complicated set of filters required for waste management. But every single thing that is thrown out will end up in the ocean – even a single flush or what we put in landfills are connected. Whenever we throw out that wrapper we have to think about how the ink on it or any other toxin can leach into groundwater and eventually move into the sea. We must stop and consider the impact we have on the ocean.
Many countries lack proper sanitation systems for waste management. As a result, their waste is almost directly transported into the ocean without any filtering. CWS has supported initiatives in different countries to restore or establish new sanitation infrastructure and promote community based educational workshops on sanitation. In Moldova and Georgia, for example, we have implemented the Urine Diverting Dry Toilet and an eco toilet, respectively. Through these interventions, not only will waste be filtered and the water therefore safer for ocean entry, but what is removed can possibly also be processed and sustainably reused as manure for agricultural purposes. Projects like these provide valuable examples of how, with support, communities can contribute to protecting the oceans.
This kind of waste management is critical to healthy individuals and communities in addition to nearby watersheds and the fauna that live there. Untreated also waste affects fish. Not all will not be able to survive, which has huge ramifications for the thousands of fishing communities around the world.
The water cycle is unforgiving. No matter how hard we try, we cannot prevent water from returning to the ocean. We must take extra care into make sure that what goes into the water as a result of anthropogenic actions is strictly monitored as this is the same water we reuse for agriculture, sanitation, and consumption. These are also the oceans on which so many depend for food and livelihoods.
CWS looks forward to the reflections and conclusions that will emerge from this week’s conference.
Lipi Agrawal is the CWS Climate Change summer intern.