Declaration from the Asian Colloquium on Water : Common Good, Public Management and Alternatives

The Asian Water Colloquium (September 25-28, 2008, Chennai) concluded with the following joint declaration by delegates from 17 Asian countries, representatives from networks in Europe and the Americas, and the organising and participating members from India. 

We, the delegates of the Asian Water Colloquium, “Water: Common Good, Public Management and Alternatives”, who gathered between September 25-27, 2008 at the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras in Chennai, Tamil Nadu State, India, declare that

– ‘Water is life’ and is part of the global commons whose nurturance remains the responsibility of humankind for the survival of the planet; 

– this responsibility calls for democratic governance and sustainable, inclusive, community stewardship of water, which is a gift of nature; 

– the State must work for the protection and fulfillment of the right to water, including the promotion and support of community stewardship; 

– the ethical basis of water as the right of all life must be affirmed and the mainstream dogma of the market as the arbiter of value, rejected; 

– all state and market initiatives to enclose the commons to the exclusion of the disadvantaged, marginalized and underprivileged must be firmly resisted. 

As we build alternatives, we remain

– firm in seeking remedial justice for the destruction of water resources by the State, international financial institutions (IFIs), big business and other private entities; 

– steadfast in resisting the global and concerted drive of corporations, international financial institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, regional development banks such as the ADB, etc., multilateral organizations such as the World Trade Organisation, governments and elites to commodify and privatise water; 

– determined in repudiating the illegitimate debts claimed from us by the IFIs, the servicing of which has taken public resources away from the strengthening of public water utilities and services, and in exposing the use of debt as leverage to promote privatization; 

– in solidarity with water justice movements whose resolute mobilisation has strengthened opposition to water privatisation and commodification while promoting the search for alternatives. 

We stand by principles which maintain that

– the nurturance of water is rooted in respect for living cultures, their values and traditions; 

– any process that involves the access, use and disposal of water should be evolved from systems of governance that are democratic, ecologically sustainable, socially acceptable, inclusive and gender just; 

– community control in water governance must be ensured at all levels and across the spectrum of water use; 

– access to water must be ensured by state investments, as a fundamental rejection of exploitative principles exercised in the name of revenue generation, financial viability and willingness to pay; 

– we uphold the right of communities to technologies that are accessible, affordable, sustainable, self-manageable, gender just, and respect traditional knowledge and cultural practices, where these involve good water conservation practices; 

– the responsibility of State shall be to promote, support and sustain improvement initiatives through partnerships between its agencies and communities. 

We therefore commit to further develop, promote, and practice alternatives to ensure that

– water is democratised through participatory, gender-fair processes of consultation and decision-making; transparency and accountability of governments and government agencies, especially those directly involved with water resources and services; and access to justice mechanisms and processes for redress, where and when the right to water is compromised or denied in any way; 

– reclaiming and strengthening of public water utilities through adequate public investments to fulfill a public trust of providing clean, adequate, (With dignity or in a dignified way) and affordable water to the people; 

– reinforcement of regulatory authorities, seeing to it that they are truly autonomous and independent, established by virtue of Act of legislation to operate transparently and provide mechanisms for accountability; (Rather – Democratically Governed and Participatory water supply institutions and systems) 

– Support for public-public partnerships (PUPs) that actively and decisively involve government and civil society in policy-making, resource generation, and management; 

– Promotion of community-based water management initiatives; and 

– Supporting public audit of debts to guarantee that public expenditures for water are prioritized over debt service. 

We affirm the above in the spirit of the koodam – a Tamil word for a gathering, a social space, for consensus, that implies harmony, diversity, equality and justice. that resonates with other life-affirming world views in Asia such as bayanihan (Philippines), idobata-kaigi (Japan), choupal (North India).

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