Thursday, March 15, 2012

World Water Forum muddied by controversies

AlertNet News Blog -

World Water Forum muddied by controversies

By Megan Rowling

From corporate involvement in water provision to ministerial wording
around the right to water, and standards for building large dams, many
activists are far from happy with what�s happening at the 6th World
Water Forum in Marseille this week.

Ahead of the huge triennial gathering, expected to attract up to
25,000 participants from some 180 countries, several non-governmental
organisations (NGOs) raised the alarm that a draft declaration to be
issued by ministers did not contain an unequivocal commitment to the
U.N.-recognised rights to water and sanitation.

Amnesty International and WASH-United, an international partnership
for safe drinking water and sanitation, said the communique would
instead urge accelerated implementation of �human rights obligations
relating to access to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation�,
adding that this phrasing had been insisted upon by a small number of
states, including Canada.

This, the partnership argued, would allow states to determine
individually whether their �human rights obligations� required them to
realise the rights to water and sanitation for all, and could prevent
people denied water and sanitation from holding their governments to

They warned that, unless the language was amended to reflect a full
commitment to the rights to water and sanitation, �the Forum will have
failed to even begin to meet its aspiration of providing solutions for
those without access to water and sanitation�.

They did not succeed in getting an amendment to the declaration issued
on Tuesday - an outcome that will also have disappointed Catarina de
Albuquerque, the U.N.�s first special rapporteur on the human right to
safe drinking water and sanitation.

She had also called for the language to be changed, saying it was an
�unwelcome surprise� that the declaration did not �recognise the human
right to water and sanitation that has been explicitly recognised at
the UN�.

�If Governments spend one week discussing �solutions� for water issues
while failing to base them on the human right to water and sanitation,
how could such solutions be for people who need water and sanitation
most and are systematically neglected?� she asked in a statement.

�The outcome of the World Water Forum may become �solutions� built on
faulty foundations.�

At the ministerial section of the conference on Tuesday, Bolivia�s
environment and water minister had his microphone cut off - supposedly
for time reasons - after saying the text didn�t refer clearly to
social justice and the right to water, AFP reported.

The 130 or so countries that supported the declaration did commit to
speeding up access to safe drinking water and sanitation for all,
focusing on the most vulnerable. They also said there was a need to
boost efforts to cut water pollution and to reuse wastewater.

And they called for coherence between water, food and energy policies,
as well as more flexible and integrated land and water resources
management in order to build resilience to climate change.


Nonetheless, Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch
- a small U.S.-based NGO - described the declaration as �a step
backwards for water justice�, noting that signatures had not even been
collected from nations that endorsed it. �The entire event itself is a
corporate tradeshow parading as a multilateral forum,� she added.

The Forum�s website says it is �open to all who want to contribute and
participate in the resolution of global water challenges� � and its
list of partners includes a wide range of U.N. agencies, international
associations, trade bodies, companies and some NGOs.

The firms supporting the event include French energy giant EDF, Veolia
Eau, Bouygues Construction, HSBC and JCDecaux. Its main organisers are
the World Water Council, the French government and the Marseille city

But some civil society activists are refusing to participate in the
main conference, saying the World Water Council �is a mouthpiece for
transnational companies and the World Bank, and they falsely claim to
head the global governance of water�.

They are holding a separate gathering elsewhere in the southern French
port city, where they aim to create and promote an alternative vision
of water management �based on ecological and democratic values�.


Meanwhile, on Wednesday morning, more than 50 protestors from China,
Turkey, Brazil, Vietnam and France created a living river and inflated
a large dam in central Marseille to call attention to the negative
impact of large dams on freshwater ecosystems and indigenous cultures.

They said the forum has turned into an opportunity for corporate
initiatives to put a positive face on the dam industry, including the
�Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol�, which they called �a
voluntary self-policing scorecard for dam builders�.

One of the World Water Forum's twelve priorities for action,
�Harmonize Water and Energy�, calls for at least 20 countries across
five major regions to apply the protocol by 2015.

�The (protocol) is a greenwash of the world's dam industry,� Zachary
Hurwitz, policy coordinator of NGO International Rivers, said in a

�(It) allows dam builders to claim they are sustainable while they
continue to violate international and national environmental and human
rights law.�

The demonstrators urged governments and international financial
institutions to stop financing large dams, and to move towards more
sustainable energy alternatives.

One thing is clear from events in Marseille: that people�s access to
water and its benefits is a highly contested area of policy.

One hot topic right now is last week�s U.N. announcement that the
world has already achieved the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of
halving the number of people without access to safe drinking water by

Yesterday in Marseille, French aid group Solidarites International
presented a petition to the French international cooperation minister,
calling for universal access to safe drinking water and signed by over
100,000 people.

At the top of its recommendations was �seriously revise the reference
figures quoted by the United Nations�. Here it singled out an
assertion in last week�s report by the U.N. children's fund (UNICEF)
and the World Health Organisation that at the end of 2010, 89 percent
of the world's population, or 6.1 billion people, had access to
improved drinking water - higher than the 88 percent MDG target.

�This is a very handsome announcement and one we could be delighted
about if these figures reflected the real situation,� said Solidarites.

The scene seems set for these and other policy battles over water to
grind on long after the Forum turns off its taps in Marseille this

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