The gold rush in Mongolia has left a toxic aftermath: contaminants from the mining process have leached into the water that poor communities rely on for drinking, bathing and raising livestock. Residents need the government to tell them if the water is safe to use.
The Flint water crisis an example of what can happen in the absence of transparent, inclusive and accountable water quality regulation and public service delivery. And unfortunately, it's just one community out of many throughout the world experiencing this problem.
Solving the challenges of air and water pollution will require more than the adoption of top-down solutions or greener technology. It will require countries to address key governance challenges, like inaccessible information and a lack of public participation.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released its first-ever access to information policy last week. The pilot policy—which will be revised after its first year—aims to “enhance transparency and openness” in the organization’s work. But despite its noble aspirations, the policy falls far short of providing true transparency.
Uganda is one of only 10 African countries with a national access to information (ATI) law. These types of laws are essential to human rights, providing citizens with legal access to the government-held information that directly impacts them—information on issues like mining permits, logging concessions, air quality data, and more. But as researchers are learning, ATI laws on the books do not necessarily guarantee freedom of information.
Increased industrialization in Asia has created countless hurdles for communities to protect themselves from pollution. Important government information—such as the amount of pollutants being discharged by nearby factories or results from local air and water quality monitoring—still isn’t readily accessible in user-friendly formats. This practice often leaves the public entirely out of decision-making processes on issues like regulating pollution or expanding industrial factories. In many cases, the public lack the information they need to understand and shield themselves from harmful environmental, social, and health impacts.
Today is International Right to Know Day, a global initiative to share ideas and stories on right to information (RTI) laws and transparent governance. This blog post provides an inside look at how citizens from one Thai community are seeking access to information in order to protect themselves from environmental pollution.