Should Water Be Legislated as a Human Right?

August 16, 2009

By Thalif Deen, Inter Press Service

UNITED NATIONS – The growing commercialisation of water – and the widespread influence of the bottling industry worldwide – is triggering a rising demand for the legal classification of one of the basic necessities of life as a human right.

“We definitely need a covenant or [an international] treaty on the right to water so as to establish once and for all that no one on earth must be denied water because of inability to pay,” says Maude Barlow, a senior adviser to the President of the U.N. General Assembly, on water issues.

“We’ve got to protect water as a human right,” she said, pointing out that the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva would be the most likely venue to propose such a covenant.

But it would be best, she added, if it were ratified by the 192-member General Assembly, currently presided over by Fr. Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, a former Foreign Minister of Nicaragua.

“We need at the United Nations more than a human rights remedy,” Barlow told IPS. “We need a plan of action for the General Assembly.”

The U.N. says that close to 880 million people – mostly in the developing world – lack adequate access to clean water. By 2030, close to 4 billion people could be living in areas suffering severe water stress, mostly in South Asia and China.

A study commissioned by the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), released in March, said the global market for water supply, sanitation and water efficiency is worth over 250 billion dollars – and is likely to grow to nearly 660 billion dollars by 2020.

Barlow said the Council of Canadians, which she heads, is working with countries promoting the right to water constitutionally.

A plebiscite in Uruguay, held four years ago, led to a referendum resulting in a constitutional amendment singling out water as both a human right and a public service to be delivered on a not-for-profit basis.

A Colombian group called Ecofundo has collected two million signatures in a plebiscite that is expected to lead to a referendum on the right to water.

Patricia Jones, an expert on water and manager of the Environmental Justice Programme at the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, told IPS that the U.S. negotiated against the appointment of a special U.N. rapporteur on the human right to water during a vote at the Human Rights Commission in March 2008.

Still, an independent expert was appointed, with a three-year mandate, to assist member states to identify the scope and content of the human right to water and sanitation.

“The opposition to the human right to water, of the previous U.S. administration, is changing,” Jones said.

She quoted U.S. President Barack Obama as saying in his inaugural address early this year: “to the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow.”

For the U.S., she pointed out, the economic stimulus package, and other funding, is going to address water availability issues within the U.S. “We do not have a comprehensive water policy at the national level; water is a devolved power of the states, with regulation through the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Quality Act.”

But Jones said the U.S. State Department staff participated in recent consultations on the human right to water and sanitation.

Barlow, the senior U.N. adviser on water issues, said: “We are winning some of the battle against the global corporate theft of water.”

“In my country [Canada], for instance, 53 municipalities – some of them big cities such as Vancouver and Toronto – have banned bottled water, and bottled water sales have dropped dramatically globally.”

Many municipalities worldwide are reversing the privatisation of their water services. The City of Paris, for example, is bringing its water services into the public sphere for the first time ever.

“We are also successfully introducing the notion of water as a public trust in political jurisdictions, asserting public control over this vital resource,” Barlow said. However, she noted, “we must be ever vigilant as new forms of private control are being advanced: water markets, water banking, water trading and water speculation are all on the horizon for those who would impose a market model of water allocation in the place of the public trust doctrine.”

Barlow said a recent example was the sale of privately traded water rights in Australia (which were introduced as a way to move water use toward sustainability) to a big American investment fund. This means that not only is this water not in public control, it is not even in the hands of Australians any more, she added.

Asked how investors can help solve the world’s water problems, Jones told IPS that investors can ensure that the water services investments they make would bring about the human right to water.

The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) termed the existing priorities in global water services as “water apartheid,” reporting that there was enough water and financial resources to meet the current needs.

Still, it suggested that fully implementing existing legal obligations on the human right to water would go a long way to adjusting funding priorities toward water for the poor.

Some companies, such as Connecticut Water and PepsiCo have adopted a human right to water policy, Jones said.

Barlow said the international community should be watching the “superpowers” who are now looking outside their borders for water supplies – as they did for oil.

She said China is already constructing a pipeline to funnel water from the Tibetan Himalayas.


World Water Forums: Time to end them

April 1, 2009

India Together, March 31, 2009

Activists and governments alike demand that future deliberations on water issues be brought within the legitimate fold of the UN, and not hosted by private and corporate interestsShripad Dharmadhikary* reports

The World Water Forum describes itself as “the main water related event in the world” and “the world’s largest water event”. The latter is likely to be true. The Fifth of the World Water Forums (WWF5) that was held in Istanbul from 16 to 22 March this year saw over 25,000 people attending the main forum and another 8000 visiting its Water Expo. There were more than 100 thematic sessions, seven regional sessions, and countless ‘side-events’ during the seven days that ended with a Ministerial Conference on the last three days. Nearly 100 ministers met in the Conference.

Notwithstanding all this, its claim to being the “the main” water event is not tenable. Indeed, since the time the first Forum was held in Marrakech in 1997, its credibility and legitimacy have been on the decline, and stand severely eroded.

There are several reasons for this. The World Water Council, which organises the forums, counts among its members many big corporations active in the water sector, and builders and promoters of large dams including professional and governmental agencies. The governance of the council is dominated by these players. The agenda, the structure, and even the participation in the forums is governed by the interests of these groups.

Not surprisingly, among the main thrusts of the forums has been the push for privatisation in the water sector, and for the construction of infrastructural interventions like large dams. Moreover, the forums have been an exclusionary process, with little meaningful involvement of the common people, civil society and those raising concerns about privatisation and large dams.

Bridging divides or widening them?

The theme for WWF5 was “Bridging Divides for Water.” Yet, the forum seemed structured to be an exclusionary process. First of all, the forum charged stiff registration fees. People from the developed countries were charged 400 Euros while those from developing countries were charged 240 Euros. (about Rs.16,500). These were in fact the fees with “early bird” discounts, and fees that had been “been reviewed to make them fairer and more accessible”. Such stiff fees made it difficult for even first world civil society groups to participate.

The WWF5 organisers had provided support to some of the participants; that included waiving off the registration fees (I myself received such support to attend) – but the provision of this support was at the discretion of the organisers. Moreover, there was no provision of travel support.

In the forum venue itself, the stalls and exhibitions of the NGOs were separated from those of the Governments and private companies. The “NGO Village” and the main Expo were on the two sides of the Golden Horn, the fresh water inlet dividing the old and new parts of Istanbul.

However, the exclusions ran much deeper. On the opening day of the Forum, a number of Turkish groups gathered outside the official venue to protest against privatisation of water in the country and against the destructive dam projects like the highly contentious Illusu project. They wanted to issue their media statement near the gate of the Forum venue. However, this peaceful protest was met with a brutal crackdown by the police who outnumbered the protestors by about 6 times. The police used teargas, water cannons, rubber bullets and clubs.

Around the same time, as the Forum assembled inside for the inaugural event, two activists – Ann-Kathin Schneider and Payal Parekh – of the NGO International Rivers stood up in the balcony and unfurled a banner that read “No Risky Dams”. They also shouted these words a few time. Immediately, a horde of security personnel pounced on them and they were led away. They were soon given orders to leave the country on the same day – or face one year in Turkish prison. Ultimately, the two were escorted to the airport and left the country early the next morning, after spending the night in police custody.

The Forum organisers’ silence on these events is telling.

Opposition from governments

However, it is not only a group of “activists” who are protesting on various issues. The Forum also faced strong dissent from many governments. The official newsletter of the Forum presents the Ministerial Declaration and the Istanbul Water Consensus as the main outputs of the WWF5.

The Istanbul Water Consensus relates to local authorities, and the consensus was carved out of a compromise by pushing certain contentious parts into footnotes. The Ministerial Declaration – the centrepiece of the Forum – was another matter altogether. At least 24 Governments – including Bolivia, Uruguay, Venezuela and our own neighbours Bangladesh and Sri Lanka demanded that access to water and sanitation should be recognised as fundamental human rights. This become a bone of contention and the declaration committed to recognising “water as a basic human need” and to “acknowledge the work on human rights and access to water in the UN system”. The attempt to reopen the draft for discussing this issue was rejected.

The resolution of this stand-off is not clear. It is interesting that the WWF5 does not unambiguously state anywhere that this draft of the Ministerial Declaration was adopted. Nor does it say that it was not adopted. Clearly, the issue of water and sanitation as a human right has become a difficult one for the WWF5.

A crisis of legitimacy

However, the most serious challenge to the World Water Forum is in terms of the legitimacy of what is clearly a private organisation, dominated by select stakeholder constituencies, claiming the right to be the host for global discussions on water where everyone – especially local communities and the poor – need to have a meaningful role. Further, the World Water Forum also has appropriated to itself the right to host an inter-governmental Ministerial Conference.

Till now, many NGOs, civil society groups, trade unions, social movements and activists were challenging this. However, at the WWF5, they were joined by the no less than the President of the United Nations General Assembly. In a speech released by his senior advisor on water Maude Barlow, UN president Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann said future forums should, “conduct their deliberations under the auspices of the United Nations.” He also came out strongly in favour of guaranteeing access to drinking water as a fundamental right.

Moreover, 16 Governments signed a statement calling on “States to develop a global water forum within the framework of the United Nations, based on the principles of democracy, full participation, equity, transparency and social inclusion.”

In parallel to the main forum, activists from all over the world, joined by their counterparts from Turkey also organised many different events which virtually took on the shape of an alternative forum. These groups too are demanding that access to water and sanitation be declared as human rights, and have called for the next Forum to be held under the auspices of the United Nations.

It is evident that the pressure on this count is going to mount in the coming days, and the Fifth World Water Forum could well end up being the last to be hosted by private and corporate interests. As it should.

*Shripad Dharmadhikary coordinates the Manthan Adhyanan Kendra, a centre set up to research, analyse and monitor water and energy issues.

Water Rights Activists Blast Istanbul World Water Forum as Corporate Trade Show to Promote Privatization

March 25, 2009

Democracy Now! March 23, 2009

Sunday was World Water Day and marked the close of a week-long gathering held in Istanbul, Turkey to discuss water policy at a time when over a billion people lack access to clean water and 2.5 billion people lack water for proper sanitation. Activists from the People’s Water Forum, an alternative formation representing the rural poor, the environment and organized labor, slammed the official event as a non-inclusive, corporate-driven fraud pushing for water privatization and called for a more open, democratic and transparent forum.

AMY GOODMAN: Sunday was World Water Day and marked the close of a week-long gathering held in Istanbul, Turkey, to discuss water policy at a time when over a billion people lack access to clean water and two-and-a-half billion lack water for proper sanitation. 

Activists from the People’s Water Forum, an alternative formation representing rural poor, the environment and organized labor, slammed the official event as a non-inclusive, corporate-driven fraud pushing for water privatization and called for a more open, democratic and transparent forum. The forum, which is organized every three years by the French-based World Water Council, is funded in large part by the water industry. 

The forum opened last Monday with Turkish police firing tear gas and detaining protesters, who were shouting “water for life, not for profit.” Two activists from the non-governmental organization International Rivers were deported after holding up a banner just before the conference began that read “No Risky Dams.” 

The final non-binding communiqué from the official forum describes access to water as a “basic human need” rather than a human right, despite efforts by dissenting Latin American countries, France and Spain. They were reportedly blocked by Egypt, Brazil and the United States. 

Well, Jacquie Soohen of Big Noise Films caught up with some of the leading campaigners from the People’s Water Forum—Winona Hauter of Food and Water Watch, Mary Ann Manahan of Focus on the Global South, and Maude Barlow, the senior adviser on water issues to the United Nations General Assembly and Right Livelihood Award-winner—for their thoughts on the World Water Forum. Begins with Maude Barlow. 

    MAUDE BARLOW: Every time you turn around, everywhere you go, there are police. It’s absolutely unbelievable. You cannot come in from the outside. There’s absolutely no way. Unless you’ve paid a great deal of money and you’ve had the security screening and you behave yourself very properly while you’re in there, you would not be welcome. You would be thrown out and/or arrested. And the World Water Council people, the World Water Forum, did not critique what the police have been doing here. They’ve just accepted it and enjoyed it and taken advantage of the tough security measures here. 

    The security is tight, because what they’re about is promoting privatization, promoting a corporate vision of the world, and they want to pretend to the world that that’s the consensus of the world. And it isn’t. And our groups are here to say it’s not, and so they want to control us as much as possible. 

    They basically say that they are the collection of people around the world who care about water, and they come together every three years to have this great big summit. And every single year, the police presence gets more and more like the World Trade Organization, every single year, from the very beginning, when there was none, to this. But basically, the World Water Council, which puts this on, is really the big water corporations and the World Bank and some UN agencies and some northern development agencies, some academics, the odd small NGO—small as in, you know, NGOs, but really, it is the corporations, and it’s a big trade show. That’s what this is about. They’ll put on sessions on gender and water, but they don’t mean any of it. This is really about one development model for water, and that’s the privatization model. And that’s what they’re promoting, and that’s what their consensus is, and they refuse to include the notion of the right to water and, of course, the public trust into their documents. 

    WINONA HAUTER: Winona Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch. We’ve been organizing around the water forums for several years, because this is the corporate trade show where decisions are made about who gets water and who doesn’t get water. Strategies are developed here. And it’s basically a big business corporate cheerleading session that sets the agenda for the world. And rather than governments coming up with the solutions for the 1.4 billion people that don’t have access to water, we have the corporations that are going to benefit from privatizing it and for providing financing for new and old infrastructure. 

    In the US, we just looked at the twenty states that have the most private water, and you have to understand that 86 percent of water in the US is public, although the private companies are moving in, because they think there’s a big profit. But in those twenty states, private water is always more expensive, and private sewage is always more expensive, and we’re talking sometimes as much as 80 to 100 percent more. 

    The other thing that the private companies are trying to do at this meeting and that they’re promoting in the US is private financing for water infrastructure. Now, this sounds good, and it may even sound good to well-meaning NGOs, because everybody knows that there isn’t enough money going into services for the poor, but when you look at the details, it’s a rip-off. So, in the US, where we have fewer federal dollars spent on our aging infrastructure, there’s about a $22 billion deficit every year. The private investors think that in this economic crisis, it’s a safe place to make a profit. 

    You know, lots of times we are accused of being too idealistic, of being ideologues. But, in fact, it’s the other way around. When you actually look at the facts, the facts are with us. Privatization is not more efficient, and there are dozens and dozens of studies from around the world, the developed world and the Global South that prove this. It’s more expensive. It causes more environmental problems. And the incentive is to not conserve water, but to use as much water as possible and to spend as much money as possible in building and fixing infrastructure. And that’s why we’re being prevented from having a dialogue in this forum. 

    MARY ANN MANAHAN: I’m Mary Ann Manahan. I’m a researcher, campaigner with an organization called Focus on the Global South. We’re here for the Alternative People’s Forum, with the People’s Water Forum. And people here are very—it’s very different from the official World Water Forum, in the sense that this is the real water forum for us. 

    They used the water crisis in Asia as a staging point to launch privatization experiments across the region. But for the last ten to fifteen years, we’ve been experiments, or we’ve been the laboratory of privatization projects and guinea pigs. But we’ve experienced, for the last—early on to the privatization experiments, that it has failed to deliver its promises of efficient delivery, transparent and democratic water systems, of lower prices. Those promises have failed miserably. And the failures are systemic. 

    And they’re not anecdotal, you know, just one case, but we’re seeing a trend where in each country where they try the privatization experiment, they all have failed. So this is why many of the groups who are experiencing the impacts of privatization in their communities, particularly those who work with poor communities who can’t come here, because they don’t have the money to come here, were sharing the stories, the stories of the people who are actually experiencing the unequal access to water and sanitation. 

    MAUDE BARLOW: The World Water Forum is bankrupt of new ways to address the growing water crisis in the world, because they have maintained an adherence to an ideology that is not working, that has dramatically failed. 

    I’ll tell you what happened here. It’s no longer about the World Water Forum. That’s what happened here. We just transferred, and now it’s about us and our vision. The World Water Forum is bankrupt. They’re bankrupt of ideas. They’re bankrupt of money, frankly. And they have no other thing to offer but what’s failed. And what’s clear here is that the energy and the commitment and the brilliance and the ideas and the cultural change has come together. And this is where the future of water is coming from, this movement here in this room. It’s not coming from over there. So we will be less concerned—I mean, if they want to go to Marseilles, let them go to Marseilles next time. It won’t matter. It really won’t matter. The change has been here. It’s been a transfer of power. That’s what happened here.

AMY GOODMAN: Maude Barlow, the senior adviser on water issues to the United Nations General Assembly and chair of the Council of Canadians, speaking out against the World Water Forum that is wrapping up now in Istanbul, Turkey. 

Download audio (MP3) and watch real video stream

People’s Water Forum Declaration 2009

March 20, 2009

Istanbul, People’s Water Forum 2009

After Mexico City 2006, which was an important milestone of the continuous work of the global movement for water justice, we have now gathered in Istanbul to mobilize against the 5th World Water Forum. We are here to delegitimize this false, corporate driven World Water Forum and to give voice to the positive agenda of the global water justice movements!

Given that we are in Turkey, we cannot ignore that this country provides a powerful example of the devastating impacts of destructive water management policies. The Turkish government has pushed for the privatization of both water services, watersheds and has plans to dam every river in the country. Four specific cases of destructive and risky dams in Turkey, include the Ilisu, Yusufeli, Munzur and Yortanli dams. For ten years, affected people have intensively opposed these projects, in particular, the Ilisu dam which is part of a larger irrigation and energy production project known as the South East Anatolia Projects, or GAP. The Ilisu dam ? one of the most criticized dam projects worldwide? is particularly compex and troubling because of its implications on international policy in the Middle East. The dam is situated in the Kurdish-settled region where there are ongoing human rights violations related to the unsolved Kurdish question. The Turkish government is using GAP to negatively impact the livelihood of the Kurdish people and to suppress their cultural and political rights.

We, as a movement, are here to offer solutions to the water crisis, and to demand that the UN General Assembly  organize the next global forum on water. The participation of important United Nations officials and representatives in our meeting is evidence that something has changed. There is a tangible and  symbolic shift of legitimacy: from the official Forum organized by private interests and by the World Water Council to the Peoples Water Forum, organized by global civil society including, farmers, indigenous peoples, activists, social movements, trade unions, non-governmental organizations and networks that struggle throughout the world in the defense of water and territory and for the commons.

We call on the United Nations and its member states to accept its obligation, as the legitimate global convener of multilateral forums, and to formally commit to hosting a forum on water that is linked to state obligations and is accountable to the global community. We call upon all organizations and governments at this 5th World Water Forum, to commit to making it the last corporate-controlled water forum. The world needs the launch of a legitimate, accountable, transparent, democratic forum on water emerging from within the UN processes supported by its member states.

Confirming once again the illegitimacy of the World Water Forum, we denounce the Ministerial Statement because it does not recognize water as a universal human right nor exclude it from global trade agreements. In addition the draft resolution ignores the failure of privatization to guarantee the access to water for all, and does not take into account those positive recommendations proposed by the insufficient European Parliamentary Resolution. Finally, the statement promotes the use of water to produce energy from hydroelectric dams and the increased production of fuel from crops, both of which lead to further inequity and injustice.

We reaffirm and strengthen all the principles and commitments expressed in the 2006 Mexico City declaration: we uphold water as the basic element of all life on the planet, as a fundamental and inalienable human right; we insist that solidarity between present and future generations should be guaranteed; we reject all forms of
privatization and declare that the management and control of water must be public, social, cooperative, participatory, equitable, and not for profit; we call for the democratic and sustainable management of ecosystems and to preserve the integrity of the water cycle through the protection and proper management of watersheds and environment.

We oppose the dominant economic and financial model that prescribes the privatization, commercialization and corporatization of public water and sanitation services. We will counter this type of destructive and non-participatory public sector reform, having seen the outcomes for poor people as a result of rigid cost-recovery
practices and the use of pre-paid meters.

Since 2006, in Mexico, the global water justice movement has continued to challenge corporate control of water for profit. Some of our achievements include: reclaiming public utilities that had been privatized; fostering and implementing public-public partnerships; forcing the bottled water industry into a loss of revenue; and coming together in collective simultaneous activities during Blue October and the Global Action Week. We celebrate our achievements highlighted by the recognition of the human right to water in several constitutions and laws.

At the same time we need to address the economic and ecological crises. We will not pay for your crisis! We will not rescue this flawed and unsustainable model, which has transformed: unaccountable private spending into enormous public debt, which has transformed water and the commons into merchandise, which has transformed the whole of Nature into a preserve of raw materials and into an open-air dump.

The basic interdependence between water and climate change is recognized by the scientific community and is underlined also by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Therefore, we must not accept responses to climate chaos in the energy sector that follow the same logic that caused the crisis in the first place. This is a logic that jeopardizes the quantity and quality of water and of life that is based on dams, nuclear power plants, and agro-fuel plantations. In December 2009, we will bring our concerns and proposals to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

Further, the dominant model of intensive industrial agriculture, contaminates and destroys water resources, impoverishes agricultural soils, and devastates food sovereignty. This has enormous impact on lives and public health. From the fruitful experience of the Belem World Social Forum, we are committed to strengthening the strategic alliance between water movements and those for land, food and climate.

We also commit to continue building networks and new social alliances, and to involve both local authorities and Parliamentarians who are determined to defend water as a common good and to reaffirm the right to fresh water for all human beings and nature. We are also encouraging all public water utilities to get together, establishing national associations and regional networks.

We celebrate our achievements and we look forward for our continued collaboration across countries and continents!

Writing on Water: Democratisation in Water Management

March 14, 2009

Video on the Pan Asian Water Colloquium held in Chennai, September 25 to 30th 2008. A group of Water Activists, Operators, Unionists, Academics, Researchers and Policy makers from 18 countries across the globe assembled in Chennai to participate in the Pan Asian Colloquium on “Rights to Water: Challenges and Solutions”. This film is a documentation of the journey of the delegates as they explore alternatives and experience the “The Democratization Experiment” of the Tamilnadu Water supply and Drainage baord. (TWAD). 

Part One: The adverse effects of the privatization of water in various parts of the world becomes apparent as the delegates share their experiences. Given that ‘Water’ is part of the Global commons and that privatization needs to be resisted; how does one proceed forward. What are the alternatives? What is this TWAD experiment. How and where does the journey begin?

Part Two: If the journey begins with the self; the transformation of the individual first; then can individual transformation become institutional transformation? The delegates visit a village near Chennai and see the result of the personal transformation and the spirit of voluntarism in one TWAD Engineer.

Part Three: The myths propounded the international financial institutions on the trillion dollar requirement for meeting the Milleinnum Development Goals on Water are demolished.

Part Four: The enabling tools of the process of transformation are discussed. “Koodam” as a concept of democratization is elaborated and how the voluntarism generated enthuses true community participation.

Part Five: The main issues of the Water Debate are discussed threadbare by the delegates from various countries; reaching the conclusion that one cannot ignore working with the governments.

Part Six: Inspired by the vision of a village community who have painted in the wall of a building, what they  want the village to be in ten years time; the delegates each take a vow to fight for reclaiming public water and to work to spread the idea of the democratization of water management.

Further resource: The report from the Pan-Asian Water Colloquium

An Open Call to the Global Water Justice Movement to Mobilize Against the False World Water Forum

December 22, 2008

People’s Water Forum

Let us join together in Istanbul, Turkey, March 16-22, 2009 to protect water as a human right, global commons and public good to expose the illegitimate power of the World Water Council!

Following the successes of past resistance against World Water Forums, most notably the mass mobilizations and Jornadas en Defensa del Agua in Mexico City in 2006,

Using the principles in the Mexico Declaration and previous joint declarations of the water justice movement as the basis for this call to action,

Respecting the struggles, waged daily by grassroots activists to improve water conditions for people and nature,

And standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters from Turkey who are organizing an extensive slate of counter events in Istanbul and around the country in a strong show of resistance,

We call upon social movements, networks and individual water activists committed to principles of equity, justice and sustainability, to mobilize against the upcoming 5th World Water Forum.

This 5th World Water Forum, as with the previous 4 World Water Forums, is being organized by the World Water Council—a body created and controlled by the global private water industry and which continues to promote water privatization, commodification and commercialization, policies proven to harm people and communities.

The time is here to end the reign of these Water Barons and launch a truly inclusive and accountable forum to deal with the grave situation facing humanity and the planet.

Together we will work to counter privatization efforts—both around the world and in Turkey where the government has dangerously proposed the privatization of lakes and rivers.

We will continue to support local campaigns and social movements in both the South and North, working strongly with Red Vida, the Africa Water Network and the European Public Water Network. We commit to augment condemnation of the World Water Council with the promotion of viable alternatives such as Public-Public Partnerships, community-control models based on principles of the commons and water democracy.

This gathering simultaneously provides opportunities for water justice activists to learn from and support each other’s efforts, as well as to lobby government representatives who will be in attendance at the official Forum.

As in Mexico in 2006, Kyoto in 2003 and the Hague in 2000, it is important to challenge the destructive neo-liberal, pro-privatization agenda of the Forum organizers, but even more important is to launch a process and new Water Forum tied to actual State obligations, within a United Nations framework and working with local community-based efforts and actors to achieve water justice.


We call upon governments to join with the governments of Uruguay, Bolivia, Venezuela and Cuba, who in 2006 signed the 4th World Water Forum Counter Declaration, demanding implementation of a truly open and transparent multilateral process.

We call upon the United Nations and its member governments to accept your obligation, as the only legitimate global convener of multilateral forums, to publicly commit to hosting a Forum on Water, which is linked to state obligations and is accountable to the global community.

We call upon all organizations and governments who choose to attend the 5th World Water Forum, to commit to making this the last and to join in the launching of a legitimate Global Forum on Water, emerging from within the UN processes and supported by States.

We call upon all who share our commitment to mobilize in their own communities during the World Water Forum, in a show of solidarity with those struggling for water justice and as a call to the global community to mobilize on this critical issue.

We finally call upon all committed activists, elected representatives, government representatives and progressive organizations to join in the upcoming mobilization standing alongside our allies in Turkey.


Abdelmawlaa Ismail, Coordinator of Egyptian Cmte. for Right to Water and Right to Water Forum in the Arab Region

Africa Water Network

Aquattac, European Network of Attac water activists

Attac, Finland

Attac, Germany

BanglaPraxis, Bangladesh

Berlin Water Table, Germany

Blue Planet Project, Canada

Centre for Law, Policy and Human Rights Studies, Chennai, India

CeVI, Italy

Centre for Civil Society Environmental Justice Project, Durban, South Africa

Coalición de Organizaciones Mexicanas por el Derecho al Agua, COMDA, Mexico

Comité de Enlace de la Red VIDA, the Americas

Coordinadora de Defensa del Agua y de la Vida, Bolivia

Corporate Accountability International, USA

Corporate Europe Observatory

Council of Canadians

Canadian Union of Public Employees/ Syndicat Canadien de la Fonction Publique

Federación de Funcionarios de OSE, Uruguay

Federación de Trabajadores Fabriles de Cochabamba, Bolivia

Focus on the Global South

Food & Water Watch, USA

Frances Libertes, France

Friends of the Earth, Canada

Friends of the Earth, Finland

Hemantha Withanage, Centre for Environmental Justice, Sri Lanka

Italian Committee World Water Contract

Jubilee South – Asia/Pacific Movement on Debt and Development (JS APMDD)

National Commission in Defense of Water and Life, Uruguay

Playapart, Italy

Polaris Institute, Canada

Raja Kassab, Association pour un Contrat Mondial de l’Eau Maroc, Morocco and Right to Water Forum in the Arab Region

Solidarity Workshop, International 

SuKo, Germany

Transnational Institute, Europe

Water Movements Italian Forum

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

October 13, 2008

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).