The Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa (CYNESA), supported by the Global Greengrants Fund, brought together 40 women faith leaders from diverse faiths and backgrounds to a two-day advocacy training on proper waste management and disposal.
Besides being an opportunity to sensitise, create awareness and educate the multi-faith women leaders in Mombasa about the need for an ecological conversion that begins with the self, the training was also the first event to commence the #UnbottleMyEvent campaign. The #UnbottleMyEvent initiative complements and extends other similar systems-change approaches such as the #OneLess initiative, Back 2 Tap, and Ban The Bottle in London and the US. During the advocacy training in Mombasa, CYNESA requested The Reef Hotel to provide a dispenser from where participants refilled their water bottles. Prior to arrival at the training, CYNESA requested all participants to carry a water bottle, as there would be no water bottle provided. The training was a successful plastic-water- bottle-free event.
Although similar in outcome, the #UnbottleMyEvent campaign is unique in terms of its inspiration and conceptualisation. The rationale for the #UnbottleMyEvent campaign is informed by two principal facts drawn from the African context, informed by Catholic Social Teaching (CST) and inspired by the calls for an ecological conversion in Laudato Si. Besides the CST principle on Care for Creation, CYNESA was mostly moved into the initiative by the CST principle on preferential option for the poor.
Granted these bottles make your event photos look fancy, they deny a poor person the right to access clean water. By consuming bottled water in our events, we are continually driving the demand thereby causing production of more plastic and raising the price of water. When a litre of bottled water is more expensive than a litre of kerosene in Kenya where we do not mine oil yet, something is wrong with our preference for the poor. In Kenya and Africa at large, the demand for bottled water has deeper, deadlier implications than in the Western world (perhaps). In Nairobi, for example, it means the water cartels continue to ration water intended for the poor so that they can, ‘bottle it at source’ for your consumption in the high-end events. Such events include conferences where ‘experts’ converge to discuss how to accelerate the achievement of SDGs 1 (ending poverty), 6 (clean water and sanitation), 10 (reduced inequalities), 12 (responsible consumption and production), 13 (climate action), 14 (life below water especially target 14.1), 15 (life on land) and 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions).
Writing from experience, I lived in the Mathare Area of Nairobi for about 6 months from February to August 2010. In two of the six months, we had water shortage and the cost of water distributed by vendors was KES. 150 per 20-litre gelikan (app. US$ 1.5). Most families could not afford a gelikan a week and I could only spare enough for two gelikans a week; occasionally sharing with a neighbour. A litre of one of the bottled water brands was going for KES. 75 (app. USD 0.75) in the local supermarket. Certainly, events were held in Nairobi to discuss the water shortage and bottled water featured predominantly in the press conferences on rationing water. Thus, the water shortage/rationing did not result in the reduction of bottled water. So, where were the ‘manufacturers’ of bottled water getting the water from while the rest of Nairobi was suffering? A similar trend is underway in Nairobi 7 years later: bottled water is ever available amid the rationing. When I reflect about it at a personal level now, it means that someone consuming 2 litres of bottled water per half day (2 x Kes.75), was consuming water that a family in Mathare could have used for a week during the 2010 water ‘crisis’. WE ARE KILLING THE POOR by drinking bottled water.
At an exclusive video interview with CYNESA, the Mombasa County National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) Director, Mr. Stephen Wambua, commended CYNESA for ‘refusing’ the bottled water during the training and urged the women faith leaders to champion this course in their own communities. He also urged other organisations to emulate the move by CYNESA to reduce the amount of plastics released into the environment by drawing water from one source during events. The training ended with the women declaring their commitment towards a pollution-free planet in line with the Third United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA3).
David N. Munene,
CYNESA Programs Manager.