Thursday, 29 March 2012


Planet Under Pressure, which ends today, is a big conference – not only in terms of the crowds of people here, but in the grand scale of the problems we’re here to tackle. Global changes in populations, weather patterns and food systems create complex, interrelated problems. A bewildering array of answers to these problems is on show here, ranging from scientific analyses to governance and policy responses. One of the interesting things to note is how they relate to a variety of forms of knowledge and ways of understanding the world.

On day 1, a discussion about the Least Developed Countries threw up a number of problems about knowledge. The first is strikingly ironic: David Smith’s research on knowledge for disaster relief in island states revealed that records on extreme weather patterns are kept on paper in vulnerable store rooms, which can be damaged by storms or fire. Even collecting the data itself is difficult, as extreme events can destroy or damage the measuring equipment.

In the same session, Genene Mulugeta highlighted the lack of preparedness for disasters in Africa, suggesting that more participation is needed in assessing risk, and that research needs to cross disciplines. Local people’s knowledge can sometimes hold vital clues to coping with disasters, but this knowledge is often overlooked by researchers based in urban centres, focused on gathering empirical data.

Adrian Ely developed this point during the same panel. The STEPS Centre’s New Manifesto on innovation, sustainability and development includes diversity as one of its pillars. Part of this diversity means including more forms of knowledge in assessing or developing new technologies and forms of innovation. The need for inclusion and participation came back again in the STEPS Centre’s panel session on technological futures, where successes in participatory plant breeding were listed – a way for scientists and non-scientists to share valuable information to help create better seeds. And in a session on “global environmental change: perspectives from the global South”, research from Namibia showed efforts to recognise the value of indigenous knowledge in plant science.

Overshadowing all of these questions are risk and uncertainty – and the lack of knowledge that we don’t always want to admit. It's easiest to deal in "known knowns", as Donald Rumsfeld would put it - but what about the other murkier problems, where "we don't know what we don't know"? Science needs to learn from its past mistakes – the problems with the Green Revolution in India, for example, were illustrated by Tom Wakeford with an account of the Prajateerpu hearings (in a session on the governance of emerging technologies). Farmers were able to confront scientists with the reality of the unexpected and negative effects of technology on their livelihoods. This was an unusual example where well-intentioned scientists came face to face with human reality.

Bringing together different forms of knowledge may sound a noble goal, but it’s not easy. Social and natural scientists, for example, find it notoriously difficult to speak the same language. Yet they desperately need each other to overcome some of the big problems discussed at Planet Under Pressure. More than that, official science needs to learn to listen to some of the non-scientific voices with powerful things to say. That’s a challenge that urgently needs to be overcome if we are to move forward.
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Tuesday, 27 March 2012


The journalist and author Fred Pearce, Oxfam campaigns and policy director Phil Bloomer and ESRC associate research director Paul Rouse are among those to tell us about their one big hope for Rio+20 at the Planet Under Pressure conference in London this week. We’re asking people at Planet Under Pressure and other events to tell us what sustainable development issue they want to see addressed at the Rio+20 Earth Summit in June.We were particularly glad to have caught the thoughts of some of the evetn's youth organisers on camera.

If you are at PUP, you can record your response at our stand in the exhibitor area. but if you are not in London, we'd love to include your views. You can comment on this blog, or send us your videos to feature. Email us at Read more

Monday, 26 March 2012


The STEPS Centre is mounting a variety of exciting activities at the Planet Under Pressure conference in London, this week (March 26-29): convening a key session, taking part in four other sessions, hosting an evening event to launch our book series, exhibiting with a stand and recording video interviews for our Rio+20 project.

Key Session
Tuesday: Adrian Ely is convening a key session, chaired by STEPS director Melissa Leach, entitled Pathways to Sustainability: opening up diverse technological futures in the green economy. We are delighted that Lawrence Gudza (Practical Action, South Africa) and Dinesh Abrol (National Institute for Science, Technology and Development Studies, India) are among those taking part. The session will be held on Day 2 of the conference at 10.30am in Room 1.

Other sessions
Monday: Adrian Ely is on a panel discussing Global environmental change and sustainable development in least-developed countries from 16.00-17.30 in the ICC auditorium

Wednesday: Adrian Ely presenting in a session entitled Governance of Emerging Technologies in the Context of Sustainable Development, on Wednesday 28 March, 4pm, Room 4.

Wednesday: Alan Nicol will be presenting in a session entitled Collective governance of shared resources: examples of sustainable approaches for complex multi-scale ‘commons’ at 16.00-17.30,

Thursday: Adrian Ely will be on a panel discussing Research and policy for sustainable consumption: what is needed? at 15.00-16.30 in Room 12.

Evening drinks book launch
Tuesday: And, at 5.30pm on the evening of Day 2 – Tuesday 27 March – we will be holding a drinks event to celebrate the launch of our Pathways to Sustainability book series, published by Routledge-Earthscan.

Melissa will joined at the event by Johan Rockström, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, who will say a few words. As well as two new books in the series to discuss – there will be drinks and nibbles and plenty of opportunity to wind down and chat after a hard day’s conferencing. The event will be held in the Connaught room of the Raamada Docklands Hotel (next to Exel).

Exhibition stand
We will have a stand in the exhibition area, where will be launching our Pathways to Sustainability book series and a variety of STEPS materials will be available, including free CDs of our two films, on maize innovation and water justice, and Innovation, Sustainability, Development: A New Manifesto. You can also take part in our Rio+20 video project, see below.

Video: Hopes for Rio+20
We’re asking people at Planet Under Pressure and other events to tell us what sustainable development issue they want to see addressed at the Rio+20 Earth Summit in June. If you are at PUP, you can record your response at our stand in the exhibitor area. Here are a selection of the responses we have collected so far:

You can also contribute your own messages for Rio+20 by commenting on our blog.
If you are at the conference, please do come and say hello at one of our events.
Also keep an eye on our Rio+20 and Beyond page, where will be posting material about our engagements at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012.
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Wednesday, 21 March 2012


Ahead of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, we are asking academics, practitioners, policymakers and other stakeholders to tell us about the one sustainable development issue they would like to see addressed at Rio+20. At the World Water Forum in Marseille we gathered responses from delegates.
The videos on the STEPS Centre's YouTube channel are among a range of new resources from the STEPS Centre published to coincide with World Water Day. You can read blogs here from our team at the 6th WWF as well as a post on water and sanitation from the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) director Lawrence Haddad, on his own blog, Development Horizons.

We are holding a seminar at the IDS entitled Some for all? Politics and pathways in water and sanitation, launching a new edition of the IDS Bulletin, featuring work collected at the STEPS Centre’s 2011 water symposium.

The Bulletin focuses on STEPS work on water and sanitation, bringing together papers from participants at our 2011 Water Symposium, including Barbara Frost, Gourisankar Ghosh and Kamal Kar. A selection of papers from the Bulletin will be available to view online, for free, until 2 April.

You can also view a full list of the STEPS Centre’s STEPS water publications and resources. Or you can search via the publications page.

You can find out more about our water and sanitation work and our World Water Day and World Water Forum events on our website.

And, finally, we made a film called Water and Justice: Peri-urban Pathways about our water and sanitation work in New Delhi, India. You can watch a short 4 minute trailer or the longer 20 minute film via our website.
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By Phemo Kgomotso, IDS Phd Student

The editors of the IDS Bulletin titled ‘Some for All? Politics and Pathways in Water and Sanitation’, Volume 43, No. 2, March 2012 launched the publication at the 6th World Water Forum in Marseille, France on 15 March, 2012. In contrast to most of the Forum’s more formalised and rigid sessions, this was an effective, reflective and lively panel discussion.

It featured the STEPS Centre's water and sanitation team members Jeremy Allouche, Lyla Mehta and Alan Nicol as well as prominent practitioners and thinkers in water and sanitation who also contributed articles to the Bulletin, among them Kamal Kar - the founder and chief driver of Community-Led Total Sanitation – foundation, Tom Slaymaker – senior policy officer at WaterAid, and Archana Patkar, Manager of the Water and Sanitation Collaborative Council’s (WSSCC) Networking and Knowledge Management Programme.

The session reflected on pathways in global water and sanitation discourse since the 1990 UN conference and New Dehli Statement- ‘Some for All Rather than More for Some’, the 1992 International Conference on Water and the Environment (ICWE) held in Dublin in January and the June 1992 Rio Earth Summit. STEPS Centre panellists noted the significance of a three-year period from Delhi via Dublin to Rio, and how, during this short timespan, major shaping of water and sanitation discourse, policy and practice took place. The most significant step being a now notorious focus on the 4th Dublin Principle which proclaimed ‘Water as an Economic Good’.

The session reflected that various interpretations surrounding this statement had in many respects polarised debates, overshadowed progress made towards the provision of basic water and sanitation services, and focused the efforts of powerful institutions on advocating application more market-led approach to service delivery, including greater commoditisation of water as a resource.

This chimed with wider development trajectories in the 1990s during which state-led development was pared back overall and market-driven, private-sector options were given greater emphasis. With the observed failure of the private sector to engage effectively from the 1990s onwards and to support greater service provision, today over 2.6 billion still lack improved sanitation and nearly 900 million rely on unsafe drinking sources.

Panellists challenged the water and sanitation community to reflect on why the situation had not changed despite repeated global principles, declarations and targets. With the deadline for the 2015 MDG targets approaching, what the future may look like? Would the new global consensus on the human right to water prove a watershed in global citizens making claims on their governments to deliver on their rights? And with the MDGs as part of this emerging global consensus, whom do we hold accountable?

The panellists also reflected on the positive outcomes of the past two decades, in particular the increased attention to, and actions on, sanitation in global fora. This was also reflected at the sixth World Water Forum, with issues including menstrual hygiene on the agenda. The other positive development has been the declaration of water as a human right and discussion on whether the ‘Right to Sanitation’ should also be declared a basic human right.

The panellists highlighted the need to move beyond these achievements and successes and questioned whether the poorest of the poor and the truly marginalised are being reached, or if, in fact, there is still largely unequal provision. Should equity and sustainability be given far greater emphasis in the coming period, perhaps over the achievement of ‘numbers’ with access to water and sanitation?

The discussion reflected on the process of coming up with solutions, but in a critical way, and emphasised the issue of sustainability. As the forum focused on solutions and targets, the IDS team questioned what should be done next in the area of water management, and whether targets can bring about more sustainable solutions – or whether sustainability targets were in themselves now required. They posed the question of how we could achieve ‘Some for all’ in the next period, arguing that a focus on equity would be essential in combination with more integrated thinking if we are to really address the core problems of water supply and sanitation access.

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Monday, 19 March 2012


By Jeremy Allouche

There was a certain sense of excitement around the Forum and the slogan ‘a time for solutions’, set the tone. It’s time for post MDGs and Rio+20. As a result, a few trendy words and concepts were floating around: the green economy, the human right to water, the water-energy-food nexus. There was a widespread belief that we need to rethink and renovate the global water governance system. And the human right to water is certainly seen as a way to improve ways to monitor access to water and sanitation or as a strong norm and safeguard against the technological driven green economy agenda.

Overall, many participants emphasized that something new was needed and that we are at a critical juncture in the way water should be managed and governed. However, one should not get carried away in our way of looking forward without looking back. This is what we did in our session, in part as a way to critically reflect on how global water governance is evolving.

Interestingly, one can see this tendency again to dichotomise how water should be approached. While debates 20 years ago were around water as a human right versus water as an economic good, one can again see a tendency to oppose the human right approach to the green economy. At the same time, if human right and equity are considered as central to new monitoring systems, other critics will argue that human rights has been mainstreamed, a little bit like the concept of green economy right now.

Looking backwards, one can see that dichotomising or mainstreaming key concepts have polarised and in some ways limited the debate and failed to recognize the complexity and multi-dimensional aspects of water.

However, the most worrying aspect is the failure to recognise the limits of global collective action and the ‘business as usual’ scenario that these multi-stakeholders forum have the capacity to generate and address global water issues. Isn’t it time to question to what extent these forums are effective in addressing and improving global water governance? Are these not a mascarade to cover for the lack of commitment by governments to address these fundamental issues?

In the forum gazette no. 2, Sujiro Seam wrote an editorial on the commitment of political leaders to the Forum and how this political process constitute a crucial component to define the priorities for water in the perspective of the upcoming Earth Summit 2012.

But the commitments by these governments are non-binding and we are at the Sixth World Water Forum hoping for a sea of change from unfortunately nowhere...until we address questions of accountability, these multi-stakeholder forums will not be about decision time!
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by Alan Nicol

World Water Forum six is drawing to a close here in Marseille. Booths are emptying and participants are dwindling at the slightly drab Parc Chanot. The monolithic Art Deco architecture and box-like hangars host ‘water security’ debates, parliamentarians’ session, African ministers councils, and the occasional riot police (amongst many other characters and processes). All are focused, to a greater or lesser extent, on the huge range of global water issues.

The programme addresses a simple theme – Le temps des solutions – but behind this lies a surprisingly low level of energy (perhaps a certain ennui setting in?) which begs the question, who’s to take forward these ideas or will they simply evaporate into the ether? There is no question that the hosts and organizers cannot lead on this – the World Water Council has no accepted global mandate.

At the same time, the other side of town, the alternative forum takes place, but you wouldn’t know it. There is no visible protest, no guerrilla posters or fliers, nothing in fact to stir up the rather torpid atmosphere over here. It’s all pretty anodyne. One participant tells me that these global gatherings have probably reached their sell-by date, made superfluous in part by advances in digital networking (a large number of delegates from all corners of the globe seem to spend chunks of time on their touch-pads networking with the rest of the world).

One feature of the event remains fascinating, nonetheless. And that is the opportunity it provides for a snapshot of who is buying into or opting out of global water issues (DFID is invisible, for example, as are other aid agencies). But the BRIC(K)S are out in force. China has multiple organisations in attendance, Korea (to host the 7th Forum in Daegu in 2015) is very present, and Brazil and Russia are both showcasing their water management expertise (and coffee brewing prowess in the case of the former).

Evidence, if it were needed, that future water ‘solutions’ are more than likely to come from factories, financing frameworks and policies in these countries than from the more established aid-academic-policy making environments in Europe and elsewhere. The 7th Forum could (and should) be a landmark. This one isn’t. So see you there!
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By Lyla Mehta and Harriet Dudley

This was our third World Water Forum, and compared with the other ones we’ve attended it was pretty tame, far more low-key and lacked open protest and contestation. The overall theme – Le temps des solutions – seemed rather bombastic given that solutions to addressing water and sanitation problems cannot come from a global forum in Marseille hosted by the World Water Council which has no official UN recognition. These instead clearly need to be context specific and stem from local communities who will have their own visions of water justice and sustainability. Like several others, we are sceptical of such global jamborees but still attended a few days in order to get a sense of what’s new (or not) and to network and meet up with old and new watery colleagues and friends.

There were plenty of opportunities to do this at Marseille for in true French style the lunches were elaborate with wine flowing. So how much was new and how much was old wine in new bottles? Some issues appear to be repackaged in new lingo – so instead of large dams we have ‘infrastructure’, and one wonders where all this is going ten years on from the World Commission on Dams report.

Old players such as the World Bank and other conventional players are no longer involved in dam building. Instead, it’s China, Brazil and others who are the new forces which may explain their large and elaborate Forum stalls (though of course the Brazilian stand was the only one with live music).

Dams are also part of the so called ‘Green Economy' discussion of which also dominated this Forum, not surprisingly in the run up to to Rio+20. The ‘Green Economy’ seems to be slowly replacing ‘Sustainable Development’ as the new mantra. It is equally fuzzy and blanks out contestation, power and politics. Apart from the activists, very few people were asking ‘Green for whom?’ And ‘how do we get beyond business as usual?’

The big corporations seem to be recognising the role of water as big business in this Green Economy, be it for waste water re-use or for legitimising their role in the water sector. It allows them to be green and ‘responsible’ whilst at the same time grabbing water and trampling on poor people’s rights and livelihoods.
One refreshing change at this meeting was the mainstreaming of sanitation, and STEPS Centre friend Kamal Kar, the pioneer of community-led total sanitation was in demand everywhere. There were many sessions on sanitation and even one on menstrual hygiene.

The other development we were pleased to observe was the mainstreaming of the human right to water. Ten years ago there was so much resistance to discussion of this right. Sadly though, the official Ministerial declaration still does not explicitly recognise human right to water. This is no doubt due to the influence of powerful North American players such as Canada and the US, and their traditional resistance to socio-economic rights.

Not surprisingly, the post-MDG agenda and what will happen after 2015 was the topic of many sessions. It was interesting to hear speakers from the WHO / Joint Monitoring Programme. WaterAid and others admit that the current water and sanitation indicators are inadequate. There are currently three working groups (on water, sanitation and hygiene) that are seeking to develop more comprehensive and sophisticated indicators around monitoring access to water and sanitation.

It is good that normative issues such as non- discrimination, equity and rights are on the agenda (whether they will stay on the agenda until the end is up for grabs). The current water MDG for example ignores water quality, sustainability, gender dynamics, regional variation and equity as well as rapidly growing urban and peri-urban centres. This makes us think that last week’s celebrations of meeting the water MDG were a bit premature.

Will the new water and sanitation target regime be any better? Or will it also overly focus on the process of number counting and indicator definition and monitoring? We believe that targets tell us little of what’s happening on the ground, don’t capture the diversity of local people’s choices and preferences and ignore diverse pathways to sustainable access to water and sanitation that could be drawn upon and improved.

While targets galvanise action, help monitor progress and help politicians, do they make a difference to poor women and men? They are neither accountable nor justifiable. Is it time to say, no more targets? We unfortunately didn’t make it to the Alternative Forum which is a shame. We were rather busy organising our own side event  to launch the IDS Bulletin ‘Some for All? Politics and Pathways in Water and Sanitation’, based on outcomes from the second STEPS Centre Water and Sanitation Symposium, which traces the politics and pathways of water and sanitation since New Delhi 1990.
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Thursday, 15 March 2012


Before and during the Planet Under Pressure conference in London next week, we're asking people to tell us what sustainable development issue they want to see addressed at the Rio+20 Earth Summit in June. Here are a selection of the responses:

Direct link to the YouTube playlist

Have your say: your hopes for Rio+20

What's the one sustainable development issue you'd like to see addressed at Rio? Leave your answers in the comment box below.

STEPS at Planet Under Pressure

For more details on what we're doing at Planet Under Pressure and in the lead up to Rio, see the links below.

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The STEPS Centre water and sanitation team is at the sixth World Water Forum in Marseille where they are preparing for our event this evening, where the progress - or lack of it - made since  the New Delhi statement on safe water and sanitation in 1990 will be debated.

If you would like to know more about the STEPS Centre's work on water and sanitation, led by Lyla Mehta, please have a look at the water pages on our new website. Or you can download a flyer detailing all our publiations and resources. Alternatively, to can access all our publications via the website.

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Wednesday, 7 March 2012


The STEPS Centre is inviting expressions of interest in a doctoral studentship on the social dimensions of zoonotic disease in Africa. This 3+1 studentship starts in October 2012.

The deadline for expressions of interest is 5pm on March 30, so get your applications in now!

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