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World Water Week Panel: Clean Water and Local Social Justice

As part of World Water Week, UNC’s UNICEF chapter organized a dynamic trio of panelists to discuss the global clean water crisis. The panelists, Liz Morris of UNC’s Engineers Without Borders (EWB) chapter, Dr. Chris Heaney of UNC’s Department of Epidemiology, and Reverend Robert Campbell, President of the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association (RENA) and Co-Chair of the Coalition to End Environmental Racism, provided both a local and global lens with which to view the clean water crisis.

The panelists provided an interesting and inspiring team of community partnerships for environmental students. Located around two miles from UNC’s campus, the Rogers-Eubanks Road is a historically black community. Due to zoning restrictions (and what some people call an extension of segregation and racism) they cannot connect to the municipal water supply. Since 1972, the county’s landfill has been located within the community, contaminating many household wells and has left many residents without access to clean water.

How are the wells tested for contamination? This is where Dr. Heaney comes in. His career goal has been to merge science with action. In association with UNC’s EWB chapter, Dr. Heaney has held workshops to teach members of the Rogers-Eubanks Road community how to perform water quality tests on their own wells. This empowering and practical way to combine science with action brought the community national attention after Reverend Campbell spoke at the North Carolina Environmental Justice Summit (NCEJ) last fall. After his presentation, Reverend Campbell was asked to bring his case to the EPA’s director, Lisa Jackson, earlier this year. Whether or not Reverend Campbell and RENA’s grievances were addressed by his visit to D.C., the local Chapel Hill community continues to work to provide clean water to the community.

UNC’s EWB works in around five different countries around the world to provide services for communities. This may sound very broad, but it’s because EWB is most concerned with addressing actual needs of the community, rather than imposing their own ideas about what needs to be done. One of the most common projects is creating access to clean water. EWB members train in the Rogers-Eubanks Road community, and then train community members elsewhere around the world to devise and manage an applicable clean water project.

The local and global clean water crisis provides perspective on the fact that one can work on environmentally minded projects in their own backyard or abroad.

Laura Stephenson is an environmental science major at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, focusing in environmental and community health.

Posted on: March 30, 2010, 11:56 am Category: Sustainability and Education, The Life of an Environmental Studies Student Tagged with: , , , , ,

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