Marseille: Water once again between Life and Death

Elizabeth Peredo
Fifteen years have passed since the first version of the World Water Forum and twenty years since the Rio Declaration. During those years the World Water Council, led by companies such as Veolia, Suez, Coca Cola, Monsanto and other transnationals have developed a very sophisticated vision of water, a vision based on the notion that water is a commodity necessary for life and ecology, functional for human rights and survival, and hence… a big business opportunity.During this period, instead of improving the care of springs and aquifers in the world, the situation has become substantially worse. The ecological equilibriums necessary for survival and the fluidity of the hydrological cycle have broken down as never before, due to the processes of industrial agriculture on a grand scale, mining contamination and energy projects based on the construction of enormous hydroelectric dams, among other things.  As for the companies, they are progressively looking to gain ground over public management of water resources and opening debates that pit public authority versus industries and corporate diplomacy, in order to convince us that the role of the private sector is inevitably necessary for water management.  In these debates and agreements concerning global water governance, the game is to delegitimize public management and strengthen the notion that was developed by the Washington Consensus: that development and the fulfillment of the Millennium Goals will only be possible with heavy private sector investment,  which means that development, human rights and ecological equilibrium are given over to the luck of the market.

This principle has opened the way to build a speculative system that now is reinforced with the development of the green economy which is more of the same, but looking to create speculative markets with an added green tint in order to give the appearance of protecting the planet, with the intention, this time, of commercializing everything: not only the water that we drink, or even the air that we breathe, but the future of the planet itself.  Although this looks like science fiction it has become possible, just as it has been possible that from this Forum, for some years there has been a push for scandalous technical and corporate solutions, and which are now being put into practice.

In The Hague, the World Water Forum of 2003 proposed the creation of transgenic seeds to “save water”, under the diagnosis that agriculture is the biggest user of water in the world today.  At that time, water activists claimed that this solution can be considered a crime that could affect the health of the whole world and promoted campaigns against transgenic seeds and to include the precautionary principle with respect to these technologies.  Today, transgenic seeds are part of the world commerce in food and its technologies and inputs; this week Argentina proudly presented to the world the patenting of a new genetically modified seed that would “save” water in the production of wheat, maize and soya at a world level.

Things are going badly because the most important decisions on life and the planet have been left to the corporations and to powerful and developmentalist governments, working on the notion that everything can be bought, paid for, sold or fixed with payments, to the extent that it is deemed impossible to create a society based on solidarity, care for the environment and respect for a sacred good for life such as water.

The World Water Forum has systematically refused in their declarations to support the Human Right to water and sanitation.  In the World Water Forum 2006, in Mexico, there were only four countries that signed a minority declaration in favour of a human right to water, among these were Uruguay and Bolivia.  Nevertheless in the UN two years ago there was not a single vote against Resolution 64/292, declaring that water and sanitation were human rights.  The countries that were opposed could only abstain rather than give an explicit No, to what was evidently a consensus generated from peoples and countries that know that this is an inalienable right for humanity.

How is it possible that the World Water Forum can systematically deny this right that in the UN has been affirmed without opposition two years ago? These are the same countries that took part in ministerial declarations on the one hand and Resolutions and Conferences on the other.  Why is it that that now, after this important step in the multilateral system of the ONU, the WWF has not been able to agree and rather looks to retrench and lessen the possibilities of implementation of the human right to water, insisting on the processes of privatization?  Worse, now the WWF is determined to include water “in all its economic, social and environmental dimensions in a framework of governance, financing and cooperation,” as the declaration it released yesterday affirms, which was pushed through in spite of the protests of some countries.

Meanwhile,  thousands, if not millions of experiences and initiatives for social  management based on human solidarity,  proven experiences of public management have all shown that water, as a common good is successful,  a non-commercial good for human life.

The policies and visions promoted by the World Water Forum are simply not up to the level of the challenges facing this planet and human beings.  They continue to condemn the management of water to corporate powers that are incapable of priorizing life itself, preoccupied rather with ways to make profits even where this does not work, ranging from speculative financial systems to corporate lawsuits under the protection of international financial institutions.

Considering the acute over-exploitation of nature, of common goods and the ecological imbalance produced in the planet, it is urgent that the management of water be kept out of the hands of the World Water Forum and be subject to the consensus of citizens, of peoples, and of the public interest. Because of this, the social movements in Marseille are proposing that the United Nations should call for a Global Forum on Water and to lead a process that might make it possible to hear the voices of the people, in order to think of water as a common good for life.  Social organizations and common people are asking for local systems to be reinforced along with effective vigilance, to ensure that water management be social, democratic and based on human solidarity.

It has been said, and not without reason, that “thousands have lived without love,  but no one without water” (Auden).  We should add from this Forum… “without love, without empathy nor solidarity, it will be impossible to ensure that water arrives, clean and pure for everyone.”

(Translation: Jordan Bishop)

– Eizabeth Peredo is a social psychologist, writer and activist for water, culture, and against racism.
Writen for FAME, Marseilles, 2012

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