Water as a public good and not as a business of transnational companies

Water as a public good and not as a business of transnational companies

By Sergio Ferrari

The lack of access to water generates in almost all regions of the planet different types of confrontations. Thesis widely developed during the symposium "Water: source of conflict", held on the first Friday of March in Bern, Switzerland.

Before the 5th World Water Forum in Turkey

Water as a public good and not as a business of transnational companies

A fundamental right implicitly recognized by the UN

It was convened by the Swiss Coordination "Water as a public good" and organized by the South Alliance - a platform that brings together six of the most important Swiss NGOs for cooperation with the South.

This symposium tried to relaunch the reflection of the national public opinion just four days after the opening in Istanbul, Turkey, of the 5th World Water Forum entitled "Reconciling Divisions for Water".

The "drama" of water

"The conflict on the planet due to water tends to worsen with current climate changes," stresses Rosemarie Bär, one of the coordinators and representative of the same to the Turkish event.

Bär anticipates alarming signs. Sub-Saharan Africa will experience a 20% decrease in its water availability between now and the end of the century.

And on a planetary level, about 70 major rivers are threatened to dry up due to climate change and excess consumption.

With this perspective, violent conflicts over this vital resource will continue to escalate.

In an already dramatic scenario where 1,200 million people on the planet today do not have drinking water and 4,000 children under the age of 5 die every day from this situation.

And where the predominant model produces victims and chilling figures. The production of 1 liter of bio-ethanol (vehicle fuel) requires about 5000 liters of water. A tomato from Morocco that will later be exported needs 13 virtual liters of water. While the production of a glass of orange juice requires 170 liters of water, and a cotton T-shirt needs 20 thousand liters.

At the same time, each Swiss inhabitant uses 160 liters of water per day (kitchen, hygiene, etc.). This figure reaches 4000 liters per day if the water used in food, products and clothing imported into the country is calculated.

Water, a fundamental human right

"Access to water is a fundamental human right. Practically all other essential human rights depend on its application," says Bruno Riesen, Amnesty International (AI) campaign manager in Switzerland.

And although today there is a constant tendency to talk about the financial crisis, bank instability, serious climatic problems, "many forget that an essential part of the great problems of the future is linked to water," he emphasizes.

If the current trend persists, underlines the representative of AI, the forecasts are terrible. "Two thirds of the world's population, that is, more than 3.5 million people, will not have safe drinking water by 2025."

The prevailing logic today, Riesen explains, involves the waste of vital liquid; the excessive growth of consumption by a small part of the planet's population - to the detriment of the majority-; as well as agricultural production that accounts for 70% of water consumption worldwide.

"With the aggravating factor that said production is aimed, for example, at agro-fuels. That is, to irrigate plantations destined later to supply fuel to the vehicles of the northern population," he denounces.

The responsibility of the United Nations

Framework concept with which the Portuguese lawyer Catarina de Albuquerque, independent expert on drinking water of the United Nations Human Rights Council, based in Geneva, agrees.

Failure to respect this fundamental right, "implicitly recognized by the United Nations when it recognizes the right to improve living conditions," anticipates the risk of new and greater conflicts, says Albuquerque.

Confrontations that "seek to control water sources, or that conceive them as instruments or military targets, as terrorist targets or even as a means of pressure and blackmail between nations," he explains.

Hence, the resolution of water problems "is linked to a true political will of the different actors and States", emphasizes Albuquerque.

And from there also, the responsibility and importance of the system of "the United Nations, which with its diversity of member states, proposals and actors, concerns about diversity, constitute a true miracle" and an essential framework for solving problems worldwide, between
they, the water, concludes.

The one of Turkey, the forum of the transnationals

"In the proposal for its final Declaration of the 5th Forum, which must be discussed and approved in Istanbul, I did not find any explicit references to water as a fundamental human right", analyzes Albuquerque, who reports that it will not be present at the same.

"We are quite skeptical of what may result from this Forum controlled by the water transnationals," emphasizes Pastor Alberto Rieger, head of the OEME Organization (Ecumenism, Mission, Development Cooperation) of the Helvetic Christian churches.

In these forums, "international civil society is not really taken into account", and the demands of social movements are underestimated, Rieger emphasizes.

For this reason, important international networks that fight for water as a public good and that participated in the World Social Forum in Belém de Pará -end of last January-, "have defined a pressure strategy and will send representatives to Istanbul to make their voice heard ".

We demand, as defined in the Belém Water Declaration, "that any human being has access and the right to water of good quality and in sufficient quantity for hygiene and food," explains the OEME coordinator, present at the symposium of Bern.

And that water management "remains in the public and community sphere, with participation, equity, social control, without profit, without generating violence to the territories, preserving the water cycle," he concludes.

* collaboration E-CHANGER, Swiss NGO for solidarity cooperation



Declaration of the Water Assembly after the World Social Forum in Belém

Water Assembly, FSM, February 2009

The movements for water gathered at the World Social Forum in Belém consider that this economic model has declared war on nature: on water, air, land and forests, and all natural common goods. This global crisis - social, environmental and economic - is also manifested in access to water and sanitation services that reflect the economic principles within which they develop, dividing humanity into included and excluded.

In the same way, this crisis of civilization manifests itself with climate change. We must not therefore accept that the responses to climate chaos in the energy sector follow the same logic that caused the disaster with solutions that compromise the quantity and quality of water and the
life on the planet: dams, nuclear power plants, agro-fuel plantations.

In addition, the model of intensive industrial agriculture with strong fossil energy input pollutes and destroys water reserves and impoverishes agricultural soils, also nullifying the food sovereignty of the peoples.

Starting with the declaration of Mexico City, we reinforce our basic principles:

* Water in all its forms is a common good and its access is a fundamental and inalienable human right of all living beings. Water is the heritage of communities, peoples, humanity and nature: it is not a commodity. We reject the old and new forms of water privatization, including the public-private partnership, the privatization of the sanitation service and the private management of public companies.

* We demand that any human being have access and the right to water of good quality and in sufficient quantity for hygiene and food.

* Water management must remain in the public and community sphere, with participation, equity, social control, non-profit and must not generate violence to the territories, preserving the water cycle.

* Hydrological basins are the basic integral units of water management, transboundary basins must be managed respecting communities, the environment and the right of access to water of all peoples.

* Solidarity between present and future generations must be guaranteed

The indigenous peoples of Brazil, gathered in Belém, declare themselves defenders of the waters of the rivers, the lakes and the seas that are not merchandise but are the very life of them and of humanity as a whole. That is why they oppose hydroelectric plants and large agro-industrial projects that attack and
they destroy not only nature, but also their cultures and ways of living.

In the framework of the defense of the territories, the fight for water and the fight for land are strongly connected. At the World Social Forum in Belém, we celebrate the advancement of the articulation between the movement for water and the movement for land to coordinate a common strategy and future joint actions, both local and global.

Likewise, we celebrate the progress of the struggle of all movements expressed in the approval of the national constitutions of Bolivia and Ecuador, which consecrate water as a fundamental human right.

We join the campaign of the National Committee in Defense of Water and Life (CNDAV) in Colombia for a Constitutional Referendum for the right to water.

The movements gathered in Belém call for a global mobilization from March 14 to 22, 2009 in Istanbul and in all territories to express our firm opposition to the World Water Forum of large transnational companies that seek new forms of commodification of water.
Water. We will continue to demand the exclusion of water from the WTO and from other international free trade and investment agreements, both bilateral and multilateral, on water.

Sergio Ferrari *, from Bern, Switzerland

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