How to Solve the Environmental Information Divide
CITYLAB 05 September 2017 | Teresa Mathew
A recent report “Thirsting for Justice: Transparency and Poor People’s Struggle for Clean Water in Indonesia, Mongolia, and Thailand,” from the World Resources Institute examines what happens when water quality data is inaccessible to local communities.
The cattle herders of Mongolia’s Tuul River Basin can’t use cell phones—the only technology readily available to them—to access their government’s online portals on pollution data. Herders are left in the dark about effects that nearby mining is having on their land, groundwater, and livestock. This lack of accessibility is not solely a Mongolian problem. In a recent report, the World Resources Institute has found that information about water quality is not being broadcast in a way that vulnerable communities can easily find or utilize.
The report, “Thirsting for Justice: Transparency and Poor People’s Struggle for Clean Water in Indonesia, Mongolia, and Thailand,” is the result of a three-year investigation into the efficiency of approaches these governments are taking to release water quality data. Even though some countries, like Thailand, have freedom-of-information and right-to-know laws, their implementation is often unsuccessful. “We see information as the first stage towards accountability,” says Carole Excell, co-author of the report and Acting Director of Environmental Democracy Practice at the World Resources Institute. “It’s a mechanism that allows participation and accountability to happen. You have groups around the world that have used their right to clean water to say, ‘My river is polluted and the government has failed me.’ [But they] need to use government [documents] to show how polluted the water is.”