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Magda Hassan
03-21-2009, 03:47 AM
Access to Sanitation Reserved for the VIPs at World Water Forum
By Meera Karunananthan (http://www.alternet.org/authors/10500/), Council of Canadians (http://www.canadians.org/). Posted March 18, 2009 (http://www.alternet.org/ts/archives/?date%5BF%5D=03&date%5BY%5D=2009&date%5Bd%5D=18&act=Go/).

It's a perfect statement about the World Water Forum's agenda serving the rich and powerful while the poor are denied access to water.


Yesterday, I picked up my media accreditation for the World Water Forum. I now don't need to pay the exorbitant fee of 100 euros a day, which has kept so many of our comrades from having their voices heard at the international conference which is being promoted as open and democratic.
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Sometimes it's the simple things that matter.
Maude, Wenona Hauter, the Executive Director of Food and Water Watch, and I needed to use the bathrooms at the World Water Forum and discovered that there were separate bathrooms for the VIPs which we were not allowed to use. When we finally made our way to the ordinary people's bathrooms, we discovered there was no running water, so the toilets wouldn't flush and we couldn't wash our hands.
The symbolism is hard to ignore. It's a perfect statement about the World Water Forum's agenda serving the rich and powerful while the poor are denied access to water and sanitation. The VIPs have a special space reserved for their sanitation purposes, while the rest of us have no running water.
Our Water Commons Panel
The Council of Canadians held a panel at the official Word Water Forum yesterday with Our Water Commons, Food and Water Watch and other organizations to launch a report that highlights success stories of communities working to protect the water commons through a communitarian approach to water management.
Given we had secured one of the few World Water Forum spaces reserved for civil society, which we were told many groups were denied, we held a guerrilla press conference before the actual panel discussion at which Maude and colleagues from the Uruguayan delegation at the World Water Forum, who have been working on the inside to promote water justice, called for the recognition of water as a human right.
There were hundreds in the room including Water Forum participants who hadn't heard a critical perspective and seemed generally impressed. Foreign English media included Al jazeera and the Christian Science Monitor.
The panel itself featured powerful testimonials about the success of the commons approach in many parts of the world.
Here are some highlights:
A representative of the Uruguayan government, Jose Luis Genta talked about the recognition of water as a human right in Uruguayan domestic law. "Water should be delivered according to social principles not economic principles," he stated. Uruguay was one of the countries that drafted a counter declaration at the 2006 World Water Forum along with Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador and others, when the official ministerial declaration did not include water as a human right. They are now working within the forum to bring more countries on board.
Activists from India including Rajendra Singh, who works with communities to revive traditional rain harvesting techniques, delivered a powerful message about the rejection of the corporate agenda by implementing indigenous knowledge. Speaking of a community in India whose land was transformed from barren and arid to a water-rich environment that sustains a thriving subsistence agriculture, Singh stated:, "It was traditional knowledge that served the community. University knowledge serves corporate interests and imposes one system on all. Traditional knowledge, which is about everyone sharing what they know, helped us find a solution."
Oscar Olivera, whose success in kicking Bechtel out of Bolivia is well known, spoke about the need to see humans as part of nature and the importance of returning to a place where nature can take care of our needs rather than one where we see ourselves as dominating nature.
Adriana Marquiso, President of the Public Water Union in Uruguay stressed the importance of redefining the meaning of public so it extends beyond state control. "There are forms of public management that recognize other structures of governance. The public interest can also be promoted through models of public communitarianism."
Wenonah Hauter used the U.S. example to expose the myth of private sector efficiency being advocated by the World Water Forum. "We did a survey in 20 States that have privatized water services and found that private companies charge more than public utilities. The difference was stark in many states. In Delaware for example, privatized water is 80% more expensive." Wenonah explained that private companies typically add 20 to 30% to operation costs in order to make a profit. She also discussed the tendency for corporations to favour greater consumption of their product rather than green infrastructure and conservation strategies that would prevent them from making profits.


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Is Access to Clean Water a Basic Human Right?
By Yigal Schleifer (http://www.alternet.org/authors/10509/), Christian Science Monitor (http://www.csmonitor.com/). Posted March 20, 2009 (http://www.alternet.org/ts/archives/?date%5BF%5D=03&date%5BY%5D=2009&date%5Bd%5D=20&act=Go/).

A growing movement thinks so. But at a water conference in Turkey, officials voice concern about implementing such a right.



ISTANBUL, Turkey - With fresh water resources becoming scarcer worldwide due to population growth and climate change, a growing movement is working to make access to clean water a basic universal human right.
But it's a contentious issue, experts say. Especially difficult is how to safely mesh public-sector interests with public ownership of resources -- and determine the legal and economic ramifications of enshrining the right to water by law.
"It's an issue that is snowballing," says Tobias Schmitz, a water-resources expert with Both Ends, a Dutch environmental and development organization. Some 30 countries have a constitutional or legal provision ensuring individuals' access to water, up from a handful a few years ago, he says.
"Everybody is grappling with the issue, knowing that we need to secure this right. But the question now is over the practical application of this right," Dr. Schmitz says.
Government officials and leaders of numerous nongovernmental organizations and companies working on the water issue are meeting this week in Istanbul as part of the World Water Forum, which takes place every three years in a bid to shape global water policy.
One of the thorniest issues governmental officials at the forum have struggled with has been this question of the right to water. A declaration to be signed by the ministers of some 120 countries attending the forum is expected to refer to access to water as a "basic need," rather than a right.
The United States -- along with Canada, China, and several other nations -- has so far refused to recognize the human right to water.
There are concerns among some countries -- based on a misconception, experts say -- that enshrining a universal right to water would force them to share their water resources with other nations.
China, for instance, is struggling just to provide its rising population with enough water. Rapid industrial growth and urbanization have taken a toll on the country's water supply, with underground sources quickly drying up.
Water usage in the country has quintupled over the past 50 years, forcing China to turn to massive and environmentally unfriendly engineering projects -- such as diverting water from rivers – in order to meet demand.
An estimated 1 billion people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water and United Nations officials warn that the situation could get worse if current patterns of water use continue.
"Unless we change our water consumption behaviors, we will face a major crisis in fresh water," Koichiro Matsura, director-general of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said at the forum, following the launch of a new UN report on the global water situation.
Experts in water issues say that providing citizens of a country with a legal right to what is deemed to be a minimally adequate amount of safe water would be an important way of mitigating the effect of any looming water crises.
"This is not a semantic issue. If we can determine that water is a right, it gives citizens a tool they can use against their governments," says Maude Barlow, a senior adviser on water issues to the president of the UN General Assembly.
"If you believe it is a human right, then you believe that you can't refuse to give it to someone because they can't afford it," she says.
In South Africa, for example, the 1996 Constitution guarantees access to "sufficient clean water" as a basic right, which has allowed individuals to take legal action when their water has been cut off.
A landmark 2006 ruling determined that inability to pay is not a good enough reason to cut someone's water off. The South African courts have also determined that every household must be provided with a minimum of 6,000 liters (1,585 gallons) of water per month, even if they can't afford it.
"You have pressures on both sides, between those who are pro-poor and those who are pro-development, but that has forced us to be innovative," says Rosalie Auriel Manning, a former board member of two large public water providers in Durban and Johannesburg. "It's a balancing act; you have to be clever."
Even the private sector, whose involvement in supplying water in certain parts of the world has proved to be both controversial and poorly received, is now embracing the concept of a human right to water.
"There is absolutely no conflict between the right to water and the private sector. Our industry supports the right to water," says Gerard Payen, president of AquaFed, an international federation of some 200 private water operators operating in over 30 countries.
"But we are practitioners, and as practitioners, we know that proclaiming the right to water is not enough," he adds. "Our job is to deliver water to people."
Delivering that water is certainly big business. Worldwide annual water-related investments are estimated at $400 billion to $500 billion.
Critics of the private sector say they are not opposed to its involvement in delivering water, as long as control of resources remains in public hands.
In some countries, like India, rights to water resources have been sold outright to private companies, which use them for their own needs or sell the water to individual users.
"There's a huge role for the private sector to help us secure our water future, but it has to be within this notion that water is a public trust," says Ms. Barlow, of the UN. "It's not the market that should decide who has access to water. It should be a public trust and a public right."


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World Water Forum Starts with a Bang: Activists Challenge Corporate Hypocrisy
By Mark Hays (http://www.alternet.org/authors/10488/), Corporate Accountability International (http://www.stopcorporateabuse.org/cms/). Posted March 16, 2009 (http://www.alternet.org/ts/archives/?date%5BF%5D=03&date%5BY%5D=2009&date%5Bd%5D=16&act=Go/).

Initiatives like the CEO Water Mandate allow corporations, not elected officials, to exert greater influence and control over global water policy.




ISTANBUL, TURKEY – The 5th World Water Forum (WWF) is now in full swing in Istanbul Turkey. Water justice activists have convened from around the world to challenge the corporate driven agenda of the Forum while presenting an alternative vision for water justice that upholds and protects water as a human right and ecologist trust.
Such a response to the Forum is not new; every three years, the opening of each Forum has been marked by demonstrations, counter forums and other actions around the world that seek to challenge the role of private water corporations in setting the agenda for global water justice and policy.
The theme of this year’s forum, Bridging Divides for Water, is especially appropriate given the growing inequality in access to clean drinking water that plagues the planet. The UN estimates that currently a billion people in the developing world, mainly poor and marginalized communities, lack access to water and that figure is projected to grow to two out of three people in the near future.
However, the title of the Forum is ironic given the role of corporations in further creating “divides” in water, not bridging them. The Forum is organized by the World Water Council – an organization founded, led and influenced by transnational corporations, international financial institutions and their allies; all of whom have a stake in maximizing profits from water services delivery and the current global water crisis.
This year may prove to be a particularly challenging one for Forum proponents. More and more governments, NGOs, social movements, and other actors on the global stage are beginning to raise questions about the Forum’s legitimacy, and are calling on government leaders, including leaders of the UN, to move towards creating a more legitimate process and venue that fosters full democratic participation and decision-making regarding global water policy.
One stark illustration of the contrast between these competing visions for water policy is the meeting of the CEO Water Mandate in Istanbul, in conjunction with the Forum.
The CEO Water Mandate, an initiative launched in March 2008 and sponsored by the United Nations Global Compact Program, is presented to the world as an initiative by corporations and CEOs that encourages and enables corporations to take responsibility for their impact on global water resources. It is one of an increasingly dizzying array of ‘corporate social responsibility’ initiatives that make big promises about improving corporate practices, but in many cases have yet to deliver meaningful results. The Mandate is no exception.
To begin with, the companies that first launched CEO Water Mandate all have a vested interest in securing control over water sources and services in times of increasing water scarcity, and all have come under scrutiny for practices that have had hindered people’s access to water. A key player in the Mandate is Coca Cola, which has a highly questionable track record when it comes to water takings and water pollution. Suez, another signatory of the Mandate, is one of the world’s largest privatizers of water services. Nestle is the world’s leading bottled water company, and Pepsico and Groupe Danone are also major players in the global bottled water industry. A host of other companies from the mining, timber, chemicals and other industrial sectors whose processes are inherently water intensive and impactful, are now signatories to the Mandate as well.
Perhaps more importantly, however, is that the Mandate itself has no mechanisms within it to allow ordinary people to hold corporations accountable for their actions. The program is a ‘voluntary’ initiatives, meaning that ultimately the corporations involved have full say over how much they do or don’t do to honor the terms of the Mandate itself.
Last year, in response to the creation of the Mandate, NGOs from around the world signed and delivered a letter to Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary-General of the U.N. urging him to withdraw UN support for the CEO Water Mandate because of its inherent conflicts of interest and lack of transparency.
The response from leaders of the Mandate was swift; there was an immediate acknowledgement of the short-comings of the Mandate as a real tool for accountability. However, the proponents of the Mandate have pushed on; they have developed a so-called Transparency Framework, which they claim will improve the level of disclosure by Mandate participants regarding their activities.
However, looks can be deceiving. While under pressure, the leaders of the Mandate have begun to develop these new processes, the Mandate continues to work closely with a series of hand-picked stakeholders, including a few friendly NGOs. In Istanbul, the agenda of the Water Mandate meeting includes a few opportunities for ‘external stakeholders’ to express their views or ask questions of the Mandate leaders – if, that is, they can afford to pay the minimum registration fee of upwards of US$300 that gets them inside the Forum (a steep admission price for many people from the developing world who stand to be impacted by these corporations’ practices).
Meanwhile, several events related to the CEO Water Mandate are closed door sessions off-site of the Forum, including several key meetings directly with the endorsers of the Mandate. It is clear that while the Mandate now has a public face that it presents to the world, the real decisions are still being made out of sight.
Global water justice organizations, including Corporate Accountability International and the Polaris Institute, are once again raising the call to challenge this corporate driven water initiative, and are calling upon UN leaders to withdraw from the program.
These groups point out that the UN itself is facing a contradiction on its positions regarding water. On the one hand, the UN General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, has made it clear he is champion of the human right to water. He recently appointed leading water justice activist Maude Barlow from Canada as a Special Advisor to the UN General Assembly President on Water, and has called on the United Nations to explicitly recognize water as a fundamental human right.
On the other hand, initiatives like the CEO Water Mandate, threatened to undermine that right by allowing corporations, not elected officials and the people that they represent, to increasingly exert greater influence and control over global water policy.
Water justice activists around the world are looking to see how UN leaders, including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, will respond.
The call for transparency and accountability to the public, especially the billions of people worldwide without access to clean drinking water will echo throughout the World Water Forum this week in Istanbul. Water is the essence of life on this planet. As such, it is both a human right and an ecological trust. Any international policy should look to local communities and representative governments, rather than for-profit corporations, to set the global policy agenda and lead the development of solutions to the world water crisis. For that reason, water justice activists will be in Istanbul, Turkey all this week to demand change.