Director, Freshwater Program
World Wildlife Fund-U.S.
Karin directs World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) work on freshwater policy, supports river conservation projects in the United States, Latin America, Africa, and Asia, and develops partnerships with governments, corporations, foundations and bilateral and multi-lateral aid agencies to advance freshwater conservation. Passionate about connecting the links between communities’ access to clean water and the role that individuals can play in conserving the world’s freshwater resources, Karin serves as WWF’s representative on the Board of Governors of the World Water Council and represents WWF on the U.S. Water Partnership. Karin leads WWF’s work on The Coca-Cola Company and WWF global partnership team to help ensure healthy, resilient freshwater basins in 11 key regions.
What is your first memory of water?
My first real memory of water is around the age of seven when I was “captain” of a boat on the Danube River. My uncle worked on the boat in then Czechoslovakia and they let me sit at the pilot’s wheel for a minute. It probably wasn’t really allowed but it was amazing to be in control of a boat on the mighty Danube River!
Did you envision a career in water?
To be honest no. I started as an environmental lawyer and focused a lot on environmental law reform in developing and transition countries. Through my international environmental law work, though, I found the absolute failures of governance around water to be mind-boggling and something that spurred me to commit more time and energy to water. I worked a lot on overall sustainable development, institution building, including addressing air, water and waste issues, but I found that water really touched my heart. I remember in the lead up to Rio+10 process, water was not even included in the original draft document. I couldn’t believe it—water underpins everything!
Why is fresh water important to you?
It may sound corny but all future generations and much of biodiversity depend on water. Freshwater ecosystems are being degraded at a rapid rate and this is undermining our future well-being. I know I can’t change the world. But if I can help make inroads so that our watersheds are better managed, then I feel I will have made some small contribution. There is so much corruption in the world, which I have seen firsthand in my career. Many decisions are made based on very little science, behind closed doors and without thought to how we will deal with several more billion people and a world that consumes more and more. Political decisions often are based on short-sighted goals of re-election, career advancement, and party positioning. Somehow we need to change that if we really want a sustainable world.
Why are cross-sector partnerships critical in addressing global water challenges?
Cross-sector partnerships are absolutely critical to get at this issue of corruption. We need to work together across sectors to use what we already know about policy responses, test new and holistic approaches, strengthen governance systems, let go of the tendency for “territoriality,” and find ways to bring about multiple benefits if we really want a water secure world.
What impact will the Coca-Cola and WWF partnership have toward addressing global water challenges?
Water issues are often discussed as finding a balance between human and nature. This unfortunately continues the misconception that maintaining water in the environment is somehow not to the benefit of humans. Our partnership with Coca Cola, I believe, is a clear example that sustainability depends on working together to find solutions to slow and reverse the rapid loss of freshwater ecosystems. A company and conservation organization CAN have a common agenda to improve water resource management; we plan to bring in more partners, including governments, international financial institutions, and others so that together we can ensure healthy and resilient freshwater systems for generations to come.