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 whatï¿½s 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 ï¿½human rights obligations
relating to access to safe and clean drinking water and sanitationï¿½,
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 ï¿½human rights obligationsï¿½ 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, ï¿½the Forum will have
failed to even begin to meet its aspiration of providing solutions for
those without access to water and sanitationï¿½.
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.ï¿½s 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
ï¿½unwelcome surpriseï¿½ that the declaration did not ï¿½recognise the human
right to water and sanitation that has been explicitly recognised at
ï¿½If Governments spend one week discussing ï¿½solutionsï¿½ 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?ï¿½ she asked in a statement.
ï¿½The outcome of the World Water Forum may become ï¿½solutionsï¿½ built on
At the ministerial section of the conference on Tuesday, Boliviaï¿½s
environment and water minister had his microphone cut off - supposedly
for time reasons - after saying the text didnï¿½t 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 ï¿½a step
backwards for water justiceï¿½, noting that signatures had not even been
collected from nations that endorsed it. ï¿½The entire event itself is a
corporate tradeshow parading as a multilateral forum,ï¿½ she added.
The Forumï¿½s website says it is ï¿½open to all who want to contribute and
participate in the resolution of global water challengesï¿½ ï¿½ 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 ï¿½is a mouthpiece for
transnational companies and the World Bank, and they falsely claim to
head the global governance of waterï¿½.
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 ï¿½based on ecological and democratic valuesï¿½.
DAMS AND DATA
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
ï¿½Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocolï¿½, which they called ï¿½a
voluntary self-policing scorecard for dam buildersï¿½.
One of the World Water Forum's twelve priorities for action,
ï¿½Harmonize Water and Energyï¿½, calls for at least 20 countries across
five major regions to apply the protocol by 2015.
ï¿½The (protocol) is a greenwash of the world's dam industry,ï¿½ Zachary
Hurwitz, policy coordinator of NGO International Rivers, said in a
ï¿½(It) allows dam builders to claim they are sustainable while they
continue to violate international and national environmental and human
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 peopleï¿½s access to
water and its benefits is a highly contested area of policy.
One hot topic right now is last weekï¿½s 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
At the top of its recommendations was ï¿½seriously revise the reference
figures quoted by the United Nationsï¿½. Here it singled out an
assertion in last weekï¿½s 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.
ï¿½This is a very handsome announcement and one we could be delighted
about if these figures reflected the real situation,ï¿½ 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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