Put A Stop To The Hypocritical, Consumerist ‘Conference Water’! #UnbottleMyEvent

There is looming dishonesty, insincerity and counterfeit goodwill among the eco-justice advocates including intergovernmental bodies and the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) that champion environmental conservation and protection.

I am writing this article from one of the regional consultative meetings for CSOs that champion environmental protection, climate change mitigation and adaptation in Africa. The meeting dealt with high-level issues that often bewilder, appal and are in most cases ‘irrelevant’ to the communities at the grassroots that these CSOs claim to represent. The setting of the meeting was a manifestation of what some rather brutally honest critics might call “high-order hypocrisy”. I felt that I was attending a consumerist pro-plastic conference more than an eco-justice dialogue, as illustrated in the photo below.

The Third United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 3) is coming in December in Nairobi under the theme of a pollution-free world. CSOs have been all over the issue and excited about the significance of these theme at this crucial time. I agree. However, there seems to be a huge disconnect and suspicious goodwill when CSOs discuss issues of pollution and the plastic menace while their conference tables are ‘decorated’ with the same plastic bottles they claim to oppose. The CSOs are driving the levels of consumerism to the highest levels. Thus, there is need for continual ecological conversion in the CSO fraternity. You see, CSOs cannot continue preaching water and drinking wine. This does not mean that we should preach wine and drink wine either.

One might wonder how this ‘conference water’ is an exponential factor in the protection of the grassroots communities while it is ‘only a one-time fancy sip that makes photos look good and deliberations feel divinely sophisticated and seriously important’. Consider this scenario. In Kenya, dispenser water is normally packaged in 18.9-liter bottles while the ‘conference water’ often comes in 500 ml plastic bottles with plastic paper branding around it. Mathematically, you would require about 38 ‘conference water’ bottles in place of one 18.9-liter bottle on a dispenser! First, the dispenser water bottle is reusable and not disposable like the “conference water”. Even if it were disposed of, the dispenser water bottle would be 1 against 38 ‘conference water’ bottles (albeit with a bigger surface area). This means more non-biodegradable plastic waste out in the farms and oceans that our communities rely on for food. It aggravates hunger and proneness to health issues. Second, the communities at the grassroots especially in Africa have no access to [even dirty] water in some instances. Consumption of ‘conference water’ continues to drive the cost of water beyond the reach of the already water-famished communities especially in Africa. In Kenya, for instance, a litre of kerosene is cheaper than a litre of bottled water yet Kenya still imports oil and rivers are next door – most of them polluted with plastic bottles.

If Civil Society continues consuming ‘conference water’, it insults its communities and assaults them with a stab in the back. Consuming ‘conference water’ should disgust and choke genuine pro-environment, pro-poor, pan African devotees. We have a chance to alter this trajectory. CSOs and everyone living on this planet could (more like must) choose to use less harmful methods considering that access to clean water in some of these conference facilities is a challenge. Ask your conference participants to bring their own water bottles and provide them with a dispenser regardless of their ‘significance’ and ‘status in society’. Granted, this introduces the e-waste challenge, a dispenser is more durable and the requisite bottle easier to re-use even before one considers the comparative ease of recycling. Soon enough this will spur the desire to ensure that we all fetch clean drinking water from a tap even at these conferences. So, please #UnbottleMyEvent.


CYNESA's David Munene at the water breakaway session - WASH Kampala.

Written by:

David N. Munene,

CYNESA Programs Manager.

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