Group gets feet wet in global issues

A University student group aims to raise awareness of international water access.

Kathryn Nelson

Buying a bottle of water from a vending machine might not seem like a luxury to many students, but according to UNICEF, more than one billion people drink from unsafe water sources every day.

But one budding University student group is trying to change those statistics.

Corporate Accountability International has launched its campaign “Think Outside the Bottle” to raise awareness of international water access.

Senior biomedical engineer and art student Ryan Solinsky spent fall semester in Kenya taking classes and interning at a medical clinic.

With 50 percent of the population living below the poverty line, Solinsky said the Kenyan government has privatized natural resources to keep the economy afloat, leaving water to be bought by private businesses like the Nairobi Water Company.

During his trip, Solinsky said he had access to water about four days a week, but he once went without running water for nine straight days.

“It was really sporadic,” he said.

Annie Weinberg, full-time organizer for Corporate Accountability International, said access to clean water is becoming more of a privilege than a right.

“The demand of water will never go down,” she said.

Weinberg, who goes classroom to classroom speaking on water issues, stressed that it doesn’t just affect those living in developing countries, but does affect consumers who drink bottled water manufactured by corporations such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Nestlé.

These corporations, she said, are buying out water supplies around the country and selling the bottled product back to the consumer “at a really high price.”

“Think Outside the Bottle” targets large corporations that are marketing bottled water as more pure than tap water, but selling it back at a much higher price, said Corporate Accountably International spokesperson Bryan Hirsch.

“Corporations are really changing what we think about water,” he said.

Anthropology senior Toni Tinetti said she has always been concerned about human rights, leading her to volunteer for organizations like the Sierra Club and the Human Rights Campaign.

Many students are uninformed about water rights issues, Tinetti said.

“People just buy bottled water without realizing that there are over one billion people that don’t have access to water and that this is a main cause of that,” she said.

Kari Bjorhus, spokesperson for the Coca-Cola Company, said her company is “more aligned with the community than what Corporate Accountability thinks.”

Bjorhus cited her company’s involvement with The Global Water Challenge, an initiative of the United Nations Foundation that seeks to “reduce suffering in the developing world by providing safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene education.”

Where to go

Corporate accountability international
WHAT: Kick off meeting of Corporate Accountability International
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
WHERE: Room 304, Coffman Union

Bjorhus said Corporate Accountability’s “contention is that it’s unfair to sell water, and our perspective on it is that people appreciate having a portable source of water that they can take with them.”

Although Coke’s products such as Dasani are taken from public water sources, they are put through additional safety measures as well as mineral additives for taste, she said.

According to the United Nations, two-thirds of the world’s population will face a moderate to severe water crisis by 2025.