Every three years, the World Water Forum, a consortium of private industry groups, multilateral agencies, and Business-oriented NGOs, meets to plot continued control over the world’s water resources. And every three years, a wide-ranging coalition of people’s movements gathers to oppose the corporatization of water and the demand respect for the human right to water and sanitation. At the last two meetings in Mexico City (2006) and Istanbul (2009), popular pressure demanded that the elite World Water Council recognize the human right to water and sanitation, and protests in the street made it clear that the Council — made up primarily of corporate leaders — has no legitimacy or popular mandate to manage decisions regarding nature’s most vital gift.
The Sixth World Water Forum will be meeting next week, March 12-17, in Marseilles, France, as will the Alternative World Water Forum. An article on Alternet yesterday, by Meera Karunananthan, the water campaigner at the Council of Canadians, offers readers an opportunity to ‘virtually occupy the World Water Forum’.
The declaration below was drafted by the global water justice movement, and it will be delivered to governments in Marseille calling on them to denounce the corporate forum and supporting a democratic, participatory forum on the human right to water.
To sign on to this declaration, see the note at the end.
– Jeff Conant, for GJEP
Global water justice movement call to action for governments on the implementation of the human right to water
As members of the water justice movement gathered in Marseille, France to mobilize against the 6th World Water Forum, we issue this statement which also carries the voices of many from around the world who have not come to Marseille. We are in Marseille to give voice to the positive agenda of global water justice movements. We are here to oppose the corporate driven World Water Forum, which poses as a multi-stakeholder platform on water policy.
The context of Marseille
The choice of Marseille as a host city for the 6th World Water Forum is significant. Marseille is home to the World Water Council, the corporate think tank and lobby group that convenes the World Water Forum. Among its founders are the multinational water corporations, Suez and Veolia, as well as the World Bank. Marseille has long been a financial supporter of the Council itself and France is considered by many to be the birthplace of water privatization.
As they convene in Marseille, Veolia, Suez and SAUR, three of the world’s biggest water corporations are under investigation by the European Union’s anti-trust regulator for working as a cartel to fix the price of water and wastewater services in France. Together the three multinationals control 69 per cent of the France’s water distribution systems and 55 per cent of the water treatment systems.
It is as a result of such scandals that many French municipalities from Grenoble to Paris have joined communities around the world to remunicipalize their water and wastewater systems.
Who we are
We are social justice organizations, indigenous peoples, trade unions, environmental groups, farmers, writers, academics, human rights advocates, community activists and networks which share a vision of water as a fundamental human right and a commons, not a commodity. We have led struggles throughout the world in defense of water and territory to protect the commons.
We reaffirm and strengthen all the principles and commitments expressed in the 2006 Mexico City and 2009 Istanbul alternative forum declarations: we recognise water as being essential for all life on the planet. We uphold the fundamental and inalienable human right to water and sanitation; we insist on solidarity between present and future generations ; we reject all forms of privatization and declare that the management and control of water must be public or community-owned, social, cooperative, participatory, equitable, and not for profit; we call for the democratic and sustainable management of ecosystems and the preservation of the integrity of the water cycle and waterways’ rights to flow through the protection and proper management of human use of watersheds and environment. We oppose the dominant economic model that prescribes the privatization, commercialization and corporatization of public and community-owned water and sanitation services.
Some of our achievements include: reclaiming public utilities that had been privatized; fostering and implementing public – public partnerships and community partnerships; forcing the bottled water industry into a loss of revenue; and coming together in collective simultaneous activities during Blue October[i].
While many challenges lie ahead in implementing this right, we celebrate the United Nations recognition of the human right to water and sanitation as well as the adoption of this right in several national constitutions and laws.
A forum on the human right to water and sanitation in October 2014
Five World Water Forums over the span of 15 years have not brought us closer to a solution. Led by the World Water Council, the Forum has promoted strategies for corporations seeking greater profits from the global water crisis.
The recognition of water and sanitation as a human right within the United Nations General Assembly (resolution 64/292) and subsequent UN Human Rights Council resolutions are moving the stakes back to where they belong, with governments. It is now time for the United Nations and its member states to take the lead in ensuring a progressive implementation of this right.
We call on the UN General Assembly to organize a global forum on water in October 2014[ii]. As the legitimate global convener of multilateral forums, we call on the United Nations and its member states to formally commit to hosting a forum on water that is accountable to the global community and that is linked to state obligations under the human right to water and sanitation. This forum must enable meaningful and open discussions with impacted communities, workers, indigenous peoples and civil society.
We demand member states comply with United Nations resolutions and reform domestic laws to recognize that all people have the right to water and sanitation. Governments must commit to producing national action plans outlining how they will meet their obligations to respect, fulfil and protect this right.
We call upon all organizations and governments at this 6th World Water Forum, to withdraw their support from the corporate-controlled water forum.
6th World Water Forum Ministerial Statement
The World Water Forum’s draft ministerial statement is not a legally binding document and the Forum is not a legitimate space for water policy discussions. As such, the statement is both inadequate in comparison to the commitments needed for countries to progressively realize the human right to water, and harmful in that it can inappropriately shape and bleed into binding commitments made in other forums.
In terms of content, the statement has several key weaknesses. The draft declaration ignores the failure of privatization to guarantee access to water for all. The statement promotes the investment in water resources as natural capital, a model that has led to schemes that have stripped communities of their rights to water and land. Water is a commons and we reject any attempt to financialize our collective water resources, and thereby take water governance out of peoples’ hands and into corporate boardrooms
International financial institutions, including the World Bank Group, are exacerbating public sector weaknesses through direct support for the private sector and promotion of increased government delegation of key responsibilities and capacities.
We call on Ministers to draft and adopt a counter declaration challenging the authority and legitimacy of the World Water Forum as a space for developing good water governance/policymaking, and affirming the importance of democratic water governance.
The ecological crisis and the Earth Summit
We represent movements on water, land, food and climate working to counter the financialization and commodification of nature being promoted under the banner of the so-called “green economy” which is to form the basis of the Rio+20 Earth Summit discussion in June 2012.
As water justice activists, we are concerned that water is being promoted in Marseille as the engine of the green economy. Within this context, the 6th World Water Forum and the corporate agenda of the Rio + 20 Summit are set to pave the way for greater privatization of water services in the name of green innovation and private sector efficiency; the promotion of large infrastructure projects and agribusiness in the name of green energy that will prevent communities from protecting their water resources and; market-based models of water allocation and governance including water markets and payments for ecological services, which will result in the loss of local control and enable multinational corporations greater resource rights. This will only exacerbate the historic North-South inequities by allowing Northern corporations greater access to natural resources in the Global South.
The basic connection between water and climate change – the impacts of which are felt most profoundly by marginalized communities throughout the planet – is recognized by the scientific community and is underlined also by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Therefore, we must not accept false solutions to the environmental crisis being promoted under the rubric of the “green economy” such as dams, nuclear power plants, and agro-fuel plantations that jeopardize the quantity and quality of water.
Dams have displaced an estimated 40-80 million people, impoverished millions more, and turned fresh water into the ecosystem most affected by biodiversity loss. Big, centralized hydropower projects have typically favoured the demands of extractive industries and urban centres over the basic needs of the poor.
The dam industry, the World Bank, the G20 and other actors are currently promoting an expansion of big hydropower projects. The dam industry tries to greenwash its projects through the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol, a voluntary scorecard that is controlled by industry and does not include any social and environmental minimum requirements for hydropower projects.
We call on governments and financiers to prioritize the water and energy needs of the poor over the demands of the global market. We ask that all needs and options are assessed in a balanced, participatory process before new water and energy projects are approved. We call on all actors to strictly follow the recommendations of the World Commission on Dams in case such a process identifies a dam as the most appropriate option.
We call on governments and other actors not to endorse the voluntary approach of the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol.
Further, the dominant model of mono-crop intensive industrial agriculture contaminates and destroys water resources, introduces non-native species to ecosystems, monopolizes biodiversity, and adversely affects the food sovereignty and food security of indigenous and local communities who continue to feed 70% of the world’s population. It impoverishes not only indigenous and rural communities but agricultural soils and ecosystems, contributes to global warming. It displaces indigenous and local communities and has an enormous impact on the lives and public health of billions of people.
In order to ensure economic and environmental justice for all, we need new models of governance[iii] that are based on protecting water as a commons along with systems of restoration and compensation to restore the integrity of water, land and ecosystems, which have been destroyed by decades of abuse.
The corporate-driven, market-based green economy is not a solution to the global water crisis and we take this opportunity to say to all leaders negotiating at the Rio+20 Summit that our water is not for sale, our world is not for sale!
We demand that governments join us in saying no to the green economy as currently defined.
We are indigenous and non-indigenous peoples standing in solidarity against the large-scale destruction and pollution of indigenous waters and territories through foreign and colonial laws and practices such as globalization and so-called free market mechanisms, that continue to usurp and displace Indigenous Peoples from ancestral and traditional lands, territories and natural resources.
For Indigenous Peoples water is life and water is Sacred. Water nourishes not only our bodies but our spirits and is fundamental to our spiritual lives and cultural practices. Water provides for our traditional means of subsistence, food sovereignty and food security and cannot be privatized. We demand respect for indigenous rights and sovereignty. We demand recognition of indigenous knowledge, traditional, spiritual and cultural practices, and institutions of governance.
Financing the human right to water and sanitation in times of economic crisis
The economic crisis must be urgently addressed in a just and equitable manner. We are among the many who have taken to the streets around the world to declare that the public should not be forced to absorb the costs of the failure of an economic system driven by corporate interests, which has perpetuated inequalities and environmental collapse.
The human right to water requires adequate public financing. In the context of economic austerity in the global North and structural adjustment in the global South, governments have slashed spending for vital water and sanitation services and allowed private corporations greater access to these sectors.
In her 2011 report to the General Assembly on financing, the Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation emphasized that a narrow focus on economic growth has prevented States from fulfilling the human right to water and sanitation.
We call on States to make the financing of public and community-owned water and sanitation systems through progressive taxation a priority. Furthermore, we call for public resources to be allocated to public-public partnerships ensuring that public sector best practices are shared among those requiring capacity building and training. We also support the call for domestic and international transaction taxes that would increase the revenues and capacity of governments to direct funding to public services.
We demand that all employers, public or private recognise worker rights as defined by ILO conventions.
We celebrate our achievements and we look forward for our continued collaboration across countries and continents!
To sign on to this statement, please write to Meera Karunananthan at meerak (a) canadians.org
[i] Blue October is a month commemorated by the global water justice movement to promote water as a human right and a commons
[ii] October is proposed in honour of Blue October.
[iii] [iii] By participatory governance models, we refer to democratic models of governance that entrench the rights and duties of communities with regards to the planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of participatory public policies which include all actors (social, governmental, academic and labour) in the basic decisions that define life within a territory.,