Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Of Dignity and Water and Money and Strife: The Story of the Future of Water Democracy

Jeff Conant, FWW

As the Fifth World Water Forum ended last Sunday in Istanbul, a number of stories came out, each of which might have emerged as the main water story of the week.

Father Miguel d'Escoto, President of the UN General Assembly, and an outspoken critic of water privatization, had requested a public audience at the Forum – which presents the appearance of a UN event – but was denied; in response, Maude Barlow, his Senior Advisor on Water, delivered a statement from him to the alternative, People’s Water Forum, where 600 global water rights activists had gathered in an unsanctioned popular event. 
In this statement, Father Miguel provides a serious critique of the World Water Council and calls upon member states of the UN to implement a process leading to a legitimate global water forum under the auspices of the United Nations.

But a story about the UN General Assembly President being excluded from speaking at the World Water Forum, and his advisor speaking instead to the grassroots forum to ask that the UN step in to replace the World Water Council, this is not the main story. After all, everyone knows that nobody listens to the UN.

The Forum grounds were protected by an enormous security apparatus, both inside and out, which was frequently invoked to suppress dissent. A street demonstration on the opening day turned into a police riot, with 26 Turkish activists arrested and three severely wounded. Payal Parekh and Ann-Kathrin Schneider of the anti-dam NGO International Rivers were arrested for unfurling a banner during the Forum’s inaugural speeches, and were summarily deported. There were several reported occurrences of water rights activists being physically removed from Forum sessions. In a particularly odious example of surveillance, Norwegian journalist Rolf Hanssen witnessed police in the Forum Press Center collecting information from the computers used by media covering the event.

But a story about Turkish police colluding with the World Water Council to maintain order and control dissenting voices, this is not the main story. Turkey is, after all, a police state, and the World Water Forum is, in any case, a private affair.

The Forum’s Ministerial process – a series of roundtable discussions among government ministries with the goal of developing a unifying statement– appeared to be tightly controlled by the Water Forum’s governing body, and resulted in a highly contested final declaration, declaring water a basic need, but leaving out the question of water as a human right. Renee Orellana, Bolivia’s Minister of Water and the Environment, pointed out that the statement also failed to address climate change, collective rights, the possibility of community-control of water resources, and indigenous peoples. The Ministries of Bolivia and Venezuela spearheaded an alternative statement, and in the chaos of the final moments of the closing session, 24 governments signed their statement on the right to water and 16 called for the United Nations to take over the Forum in order to promote a democratic water future. As I write, the governments of Switzerland and Norway, and the African Union, which comprises 53 countries, are deliberating on their ability to sign the right to water statement.

Though it may appear (and may, in fact, be) merely symbolic, the right to water is seen by advocates as crucial to promoting democratic, accountable, transparent water governance. But the courage of a handful of southern-country governments to fly in the face of the World Water Council and build a responsible alternative to the Council’s corporate agenda, this is not the main story. After all, what else would we expect from the stone-throwing governments of Bolivia and Venezuela (and the twenty-some-odd governments that are colluding with them to upset the apple cart of big business in the name of something as vague as “human rights”)?

If we were to seek a water story of the week with a slight tragicomic edge, perhaps we could point to the World Water Forum’s “VIP toilet problem:” as Maude Barlow and Food and Water Watch’s Wenonah Hauter sought the nearest restroom after attending a Forum session, they were rebuffed by security, and told that there were VIP washrooms and common washrooms. If we were to go with this story, we would focus on its metaphoric aspect: the fact that inequitable access to water and sanitation is not merely symbolic of the divide between the wealthy nations of the North and the impoverished nations of the South, but is in fact one of the root causes of this divide. The slap-in-face of VIP washrooms reveals with stark clarity that the global elite, rather than seeking to bridge divides between those with access to water and sanitation and those without, is fully intent upon maintaining its position as, well, a global elite.

But this isn’t a story, because nobody really cares about the 2.6 or so billion people without access to the global VIP washroom.

In fact, none of these is the main story, because the World Water Forum itself is no longer the main story. The World Bank has spent 200 million dollars over fifteen years on privatization policies – the same policies promoted by the World Water Council – and by their own admission, these policies have failed. Two of the world’s largest private water operators, Suez and Veolia, the major shareholders of the World Water Council, have received the lion’s share of World Bank investments in water and sanitation, and, in their pursuit of full cost recovery around the world, have raised water tariffs and delivered poor service from Atlanta to Argentina. During the same years that these companies aggressively promoted private sector investment, public financing for water hit an all-time low, leaving millions high and dry.

The development model that promotes infinite growth on a finite resource base, that has constructed large dams on 60 percent of the world’s rivers and displaced upwards of 40 million people, that has shifted massive amounts of natural resources from the “developing countries” to the “developed countries,” is, of necessity, coming to a crashing end. As Oscar Olivera, trade unionist and spokesman for the Bolivian Coordinadora del Agua y La Vida said, “What we are talking about today is a challenge to a whole concept of development, and to the imposition of structures that deny our rights and control our access to basic resources.”

“They’ve run out of money, and the only plan they have is to put a tariff on the poor,” said Maude Barlow. “They are bankrupt morally and ideologically, and they are bankrupt in their ideas. They have nothing left to do but take from the rest of us.”

“For the water justice movement,” said Filipina activist Mary Ann Manahan of Focus on the Global South, “these are the best and the worst of times. The worst because the crisis is so grave; and the best because we now see the clear need for real, structural change.”

Perhaps this is the main story: the failure not only of a triennial meeting of corporate water policy advocates, but of an entire development model.

At a press conference convened by the directors of the World Water Forum last Sunday, I asked, “What gives the forum its legitimacy?”

The answer: “It is the world’s biggest water event.”

There we have it: what gives the water forum its legitimacy is, apparently, its size. To be specific, it’s bigness.

But, as Arundhati Roy and others have said, the age of big is over. This is the century of the small.

Perhaps, then, this is the main story: the initiative of community groups, public water managers, unions, consumer and human rights advocates, small NGO’s, indigenous peoples, women’s organizations, health promoters, and civil society to build water justice from the ground up.

As Doctor V. Suresh, Director of the Centre for Law, Policy and Human Rights Studies in Chennai, India asked, “When we were approached by the World Bank Water and Sanitation Project we said, well, with such help we will have technical support for water management, and we already have the construction skills – but will we have the right knowledge of what water is?”

As Omar Fernandez, a Bolivian Senator and the Director of the National Organization of Irrigators, said, “It is the diversity of peoples in our nation that build the basis for managing water.”

As Steve Bloomfield of Public Services International, a global organization with 620 affiliated unions in 160 countries, representing 20 million workers told me, “If anyone has the experience to address the world water crisis, it is public sector workers – we are the greatest single body of experience that exists in this field, and we should be given the opportunity to put that experience to the test.”

On the last day of the Forum I spoke at length with a reporter from Agence France Press who had come to look for stories of appropriate technology and small-scale, community-driven development – of rainwater catchment and ecological sanitation and village-level water purification and the revival of traditional water management strategies. He didn’t find them. So I pointed him to Rajendra Singh, of Rajasthan, India, whose work with villagers over three decades brought seven rivers back to life.

“We learned to value traditional knowledge,” says Rajendra, “where knowledge is shared for the good of all people and not for the good of some people to keep others down. Knowledge of the land’s contours, of the land’s capacity to hold water, and of the people’s capacity to manage it – geo-cultural knowledge. So, we have revived seven rivers in Rajasthan with the participation of people who were thought of as poor, as illiterate – and this not only brought the rivers back; it has brought back the meaning to their lives.”

I will not pretend, in the instance of this article, to be an unbiased or objective journalist. I attended the World Water Forum as an advocate for human rights and as a member of a broad coalition whose principle goal was to challenge the forum’s legitimacy. Why? Because the same private corporations and international financial institutions that caused the world’s water crisis should not pretend to take responsibility for solving it.

In over ten years involved with water issues, I’ve dug trenches for pipe alongside villagers for whom potable water is equated both with self-sufficiency and with life; I’ve visited deeply impoverished people in many nations – people often living with an absolute lack of decent sanitation, often confronting toxic dumping, often suffering displacement as refugees of environmental devastation, and often witnessing the wholesale removal of the natural resources beneath their families and their homes. I’ve seen that, surprising as it may at first appear, the poor pay more for water and are, of course, the first to suffer from its lack.

And in all of these places I’ve seen that, at the root of sustainable community development, whether in Akron, Accra, or Argentina, is self-reliance. And at the root of self-reliance is human dignity.

Dignity, which doesn’t necessarily wear a business suit or polished shoes.

Or any shoes at all, for that matter.

Of course, as the boosters of private sector investment remind us, there are certain facts we must confront. One of these facts, as fundamental as the air we breathe, is that water, like it or not, can be bought and sold.

But dignity, it has been said, cannot.
And dignity and water are closely related.

For those of us dedicated to promoting access to sustainable, safe water and sanitation to the world’s people, the World Water Forum is not the main story – it is merely a distraction. But it is a dangerous distraction. And at this late date, with upwards of a billion people lacking access to safe water, with the climate crisis revealing new horrors on a daily basis, with the collapse of financial markets replacing terrorism as the greatest threat to global security, and with the same institutions that have been in charge of our money taking continued control of our water, we cannot afford such distractions.

With the convergence in Istanbul last week of numerous NGO’s and social movements from North America and Europe, the African Water Network, the InterAmerican Network for the Defense and the Protection of Water Rights, the broad and diverse water movements of Asia and the Middle East; with the intervention of Father Miguel D’escoto, a Nicaraguan Jesuit briefly at the helm of the UN General Assembly; with the bold words of Maude Barlow who said “today we are witnessing the transfer of power from the World Water Forum to the People’s Water Forum;” and of Wenonah Hauter who points out repeatedly that public investment in water is the very basis of public health in the northern nations and should be in the southern nations as well; with the environment Ministers of embattled southern governments like Bolivia and Venezuela present with the social movements in defending the human right to water, the main story of the week is that the time has arrived for people-centered, earth-centered practices to be given their rightful place as the focal point of water policy, both globally and locally, north, south, and everywhere.

But let’s hope this is not just the water story of the week. Let’s hope it is the water story of the century.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

The declarations of the 5th WWF

Various declarations were issued during this World Water Forum in Istanbul. Here are a few links to the original texts, or copies of them.

First of all, the official 5th WWF ministerial declaration. This text is non-binding but could have had a significant political weight on the diplomatic scene. This will unfortunately not happen due to the opposition of some states (USA, Brazil and Egypt at least): the declaration only mentions water as a "human need" and not as a "human right", as several delegations have asked for. The general feeling at the end of the forum was disappointment: the conclusions are far from meeting the stakes mentioned in the UNESCO's World Water Assessment Program, published at the beginning of the Forum.

In reaction, several countries have agreed on signing two complementary declarations. Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador have played a key role in coordinating the negotiations.

The first declaration says that

"We recognize that access to water and sanitation is a human right and we are committed to all necessary actions for the progressive implementation of this right",

and has been signed by 25 countries so far (the list is not complete yet as more countries can join in):

South Africa
Sri Lanka
United Arab Emirates

Switzerland has declared its support although a formal signature will
take months to finalize.

The second one is extremely important as it is a direct challenge of the World Water Council's legitimacy as an organiser for such an event. It adds the following paragraph to the above-mentioned declaration:

"We call 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."

And it has been signed by 15 countries so far (the list is not definitive as well)

Sri Lanka
United Arab Emirates

Two other declarations were issued during the Forum, the Youth declaration and the "Istanbul Water Consensus For Local and Regional Authorities" (both declarations say that access to water and sanitation is a human right, but their legal value is null).


Saturday, March 21, 2009

"Sustainable Finance": the apolitical temptation

Martin Pigeon (CEO)

Wednesday 18 March, in the afternoon, I attended two sessions on "sustainable finance". The first one (5.1.3) was entitled "unlocking the demand for finance: how to enhance the "bankability" of the sector?".
I won't comment extensively on it as the word "bankability" explains it all: in this framework, water utilities are seen in a banker's perspective, which means that the analysis perimeter is restrained to the cash flows plan ("credibility of future cash flows", as one panellist said), a positive EBITDA and other sexy ratios measuring the financial performance of the utility. The key is therefore to create an "enabling environment", which means guaranteeing the autonomy of the utility ("protect the utility from political interference", as someone said) and allowing its profitability with full-cost recovery.

Pierre-Alain Mahé from GRET made an interesting presentation on a micro finance scheme in Cambodia where GRET acted as a financial intermediary between local micro-entrepreneurs and local commercial banks: because water projects take a lot of time (at least 5-6 years in this case) to recoup investments and because their average beneficial rate is around 6% a year, it was necessary for GRET to intervene because normal commercial loans conditions there are, if I got the figures correctly, something like a 20% yearly interest rate and a 2 years credit line. GRET therefore provided financial backing to some entrepreneurs and negotiated better loans conditions with local banks, with some results.

Still, I don't understand this insistence on private sector development. Those micro-entrepreneurs develop on a demand born out of governmental failure or the dismay of local communities unable to organise themselves to create communal services; the service these entrepreneurs deliver is clearly vital and having a costly service remains better than no service at all, but is it relevant to insist on developing the symptom of a failure? Of course I'm being falsely naive here, it is the wet dream of any corporation to create the conditions that would enable the exploitation of the ultimate commodity of them all. Demand for water is almost inelastic, meaning that water demand will remain constant whatever its price is, and the water "market" is absolutely monopolistic. The only thing that prevented such a market creation so far, and explains the numerous failures of privatisation attempts, is the political super-sensitivity of water prices; governments very rarely let water utilities increase water prices to a level that would endanger their popular support, and this is likely to continue. This is why, by the way, even Aquafed, the international lobby of water corporations, has renounced asking for full-scale privatisation and pushes for what it calls "sustainable cost recovery": let water utilities be remunerated with a combination of user payments (tariffs) and public subsidies (taxes). Public money subsidising private profits: bail-outs are really fashionable these days. A "new concept", as they say.

The following session (5.1.4, "Pooling resources to close the financing gap: how can financing for the sector be optimised?") was very interesting in the sense that it combined some very sound statements with some of the most narrow-minded assertions I have ever heard on this topic (ok, I haven't been that long in the field, about 3-4 years only). On the positive side, I'm particularly thinking about what John Maguire (DABLAS Task Force, EU Commission) said, when he criticised IFIs unaccountability, expressing anger at the fact that those institutions detained a power with huge political consequences but were free from political accountability. He added, which is for me the bottom-line, that "the sector is ultimately legislative-driven"; in other words, politics have the last word. M. Rakatobe, from the African Development Bank (AFDB), also said something nice around accountability not being pure performance but truly responding to the needs of the population, a rare sentence in a banker's mouth.

On the other hand, I think the most grotesquely greedy statement of the day - and there were many - was uttered by Christopher Gasson, editor of "Global Water Intelligence", the voice of the water industry (which recently created the lobby group "sustainable water alliance" together with another lobby group, the International Desalination Association). Speaking from the floor, he expressed his frustration at not witnessing a water business model as "successful" as mobile phones'. Indeed, the business of mobile phones might have been the fastest-developing and most profitable commercial success ever. But some slight differences between mobile phones and water might have escaped his attention: the cost of infrastructure, the level of technology required... and the sheer possibility to survive without it.

More seriously, a series of exchanges illustrated quite well the issues at stake. After one hour and a half of discussions about water business profitability, a woman was given the microphone and there was a sudden change of tone. She very simply said that she thought that water was life, a non-profit public good, and wondered what all this profits thing was all about (sorry Madam, I didn't get your name, but thank you for this intervention). The voice of the industry, a few seats behind, couldn't help sniggering. One banker in the panel half-jokingly answered her that although water might be a gift of God and no one would charge her for collecting rainwater in a bucket, water services had a price, etc. I was given the microphone just afterwards, which was the opportunity for me to inform this gentleman that in France, since 2006, collecting rainwater actually costs thanks to the lobbying of water corporations (they managed to obtain the creation of a tax on rainwater collection devices). A woman in the panel from Seattle then answered that although the Seattle water utility was public and one of the best in the US, it was prohibited to collect rainwater there because these collected waters added up to the volumes channelled in the sewage networks and thus increased the utility's costs - which is true. This same women earlier wondered how to channel pension funds into water investments, and concluded that at the end of the day it was all a matter of business model.

Again and again, at least two visions of water collide: on the one hand, a technical vision of water seen as something produced and sold by a water plant, a high-tech, complex and standardised good, very costly to produce and whose management must be financially optimised within the framework of an autonomous entity. On the other hand, a holistic vision of water as the element that allowed life to appear and remains its irreplaceable vehicle. This latter vision leads to conceive water policies in an integrated way, both from an environmental and social point of view. The progressive European water management cases we have studied all include this transversal dimension, integrating democratic processes of transparency, accountability and participation, and/or successfully integrating rural water management - for example by using water money to subsidise organic agriculture which pollutes much less and uses less water.

I want to think that there is hope for truly "bridging divides for water", as this Forum's motto says: the necessity for such an integration is understood by its organisers, who have been promoting "integrated water resources management" for many years. What remains decisive obstacles, in my opinion, is:

- the mono-dimensional accountability of multinational corporations, whose constraints are purely financial - for instance, Veolia just decided to cut into its investment plans to distribute dividends to its shareholders after its shares collapsed on stock markets this year - but whose ability to play worldwide gives them an overwhelmingly superior negotiating position over local public authorities; the combination of these two factors simply cannot deliver local public interest policies.
- the power of financial management language and culture, which tends to blind water managers who only think of water in terms of cash flows. Bankers should be serving utilities, not the contrary.
- the lack of a real democratic culture in many places, which could go far beyond the simple representative system. As the case of Cordoba, in Spain, shows (see above-mentioned paper), truly participatory and empowering processes can lead to truly responsible behaviours. Amartya Sen and other authors have been repeating this for decades: real democracy might be the only truly sustainable solution at hand.
- the lack of understanding of water issues by national authorities, who can be tempted to undermine water utilities' budgets for other purposes.

Again and again: politics will have the last word, and time is ticking away. So let's play politics, and hope for the best.


Friday, March 20, 2009

People's Water Forum Declaration 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 complex 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 rightto 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!


Statement from The President of the 63rd Session United Nations General Assembly

To the Fifth World Water Forum Delivered by Maude Barlow, Senior Advisor on Water to the President

Istanbul, 19 March 2009

Dear Friends,
Sisters and Brothers All,

I am very pleased to be able address the Fifth World Water Forum and through my Senior Adviser on Water, Ms. Maude Barlow, I send warm greetings to what has become the largest gathering of concerned water advocates in the world. I wish to address some concerns regarding the processes and structures of this institution today with candor and the genuine hope that we can find new ways to broaden our partnerships around the crucial issues arising from the water crisis that is relentlessly unfolding around the world.

As you may know, I have made access to water for all people a priority during my presidency of the sixty-third session of the General Assembly. My concern has moved me to be the first General Assembly President to address the Forum since its inception in 1997. At a time when the global water crisis continues unchecked, the General Assembly has committed Member States to ensure that as much progress as possible is made towards the goals of the 2005-2015 International Decade for Action "Water for Life", which it proclaimed in 2003.

The primary goal of the UN Decade is to promote efforts to fulfill international commitments made on water and water-related issues by 2015. These commitments include the Millennium Development Goals to reduce by half the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water by 2015 and to stop unsustainable exploitation of water resources. The UN requires dynamic partnerships to ensure the realization of these goals.

The General Assembly is joined by other members of the UN family to advance these goals. I am heartened by the decision last year of the Human Rights Council to appoint an independent expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Her appointment was clear demonstration of the rising concern of the international community of the impending water crisis, and the need to ensure that our joint efforts are guided towards meeting the needs of the world's most vulnerable and the disempowered.

Just last week in Geneva, Ms. Catarina de Albuquerque presented her first preliminary report to the Human Rights Council, which focused on the problem of lack of access to sanitation, and its connection to other human rights obligations. She is now focusing on the normative content of human rights obligations related to access to sanitation and the development of criteria for good practices relating to the human rights obligations for water and sanitation. These are initiatives that all of us gathered here should heed and support.

I do not need to tell you the scale of this crisis. I trust we share an awareness of the importance of supporting the billions of people who are suffering from lack of access to clean water and sanitation. What is less clear is our awareness of the need to build dynamic partnerships to ensure support for the vulnerable communities in their search for sustainable solutions to the complex problems surrounding access to water.

My views on water have been deeply influenced by Maude Barlow's exceptional work over the past years to bring the global water crisis to the attention of the international community. I share her view that water is a public trust, a common heritage of people and nature, and a fundamental human right. I am convinced that we must challenge the notion that water is a commodity to be bought and sold on the open market. We must work quickly to guarantee that access to drinking water constitutes a fundamental right of all peoples and is included among the goals of the United Nations Decade.

The World Bank reports that by 2025, two thirds of the world's population will not have enough clean water. This is why water is increasingly seen as the "oil" of the twenty-first century, with all the serious consequences that implies. Those who are committed to the privatization of water, making it a commodity like oil, are denying people a human right as basic as the air we breathe.

Because of these beliefs, I feel I must express my concerns regarding the constitution and performance of the World Water Forum. As President of the General Assembly, I see more clearly than ever the importance of inclusive and democratic partnerships in addressing the global challenges before us. Yet to be successful, these partnerships need to be in keeping with the UN development agenda and the goals of our Organization, and must take into account and reflect the emerging trends in international law, including international human rights law. I believe the UN's own ambiguity and lack of leadership have hindered our ability to steer a course and forge more constructive partnerships for addressing the critical issue of water.

I am concerned that the World Water Forum is currently structured in a way that precludes partnerships with the advocates of the principles mentioned above. The Forum's orientation is profoundly influenced by private water companies. This is evident by the fact that both the president of the World Water Council and the alternate president are deeply involved with provision of private, for-profit, water services.

It is important that the United Nations insist on more clarity on the issue of "commodification" of water and articulate a rights-based approach on access to water. I strongly believe that UN agencies and offices should spearhead the effort to articulate, through a legally constituted process, a clear, comprehensive framework for dealing with issues of access to water and sanitation. Guidelines should be established as to the accountability and responsibilities of the members of the World Water Council and the World Water Forum.

I was troubled to learn that the current World Water Forum Ministerial Statement was only agreed upon when some states ensured that there was no binding obligation on governments to actually implement any of the articles within the statement. The issue of water is too important to be left without a binding and accountable process. We can and must do better.

It is clear that the present World Water Forum does not share the widely held views against water privatization and on preventing water from becoming a commodity. I must agree that future Forums should adopt international norms and conduct their deliberations under the auspices of the United Nations. I urge UN Member States to work together to promote policies for a Forum that meets our well-developed methodologies for such events. These policies should be implemented before the meeting of the Sixth World Water Forum.

This new orientation will give new impetus to a range of positive initiatives. Now is the time when we need to join forces and resources to take immediate steps to protect the sources of this precious resource and improve measures to prevent water pollution. It will bolster our efforts to involve more people in creative and dynamic partnerships to address the crisis, which is placing at risk the lives and well-being billions of human beings.

A broader-based Forum will also provide new opportunities to work together to develop the processes that allow us to work through any water conflicts in a peaceful manner based upon the rule of law. We need to utilize the clear mechanisms of human rights and international law for this to be successful.

For all these reasons, it is essential that those of you representing governments at the World Water Forum take steps to reverse the decision to remove reference to the right to water from the Ministerial Declaration. As it stands, this important statement undermines the efforts of those who are struggling for access to clean water and sanitation. I urge all of you to support the efforts of the delegation from Uruguay in the process to open up the statement and do the right thing. We all know the real work comes after the words, and on this we must all stand together.

All of us - the United Nations, Governments, the private sector and organized civil society - must join forces to find solutions and positive ways forward. Together we must reassert our role as stewards of planet Earth, a role that has been abandoned for so long. We must recognize that the narrow, profit-driven approach to the precious elements of life is leading us to a dead end, not only for humanity but for all life on our beleaguered planet. We must find new respect for what has been entrusted to our care and manage our resources for the good of all.

All of us, without exception, share responsibility for the state of our world. But we must move forward. Today, we are witnessing a confluence of large-scale, interrelated crises -- access to clean water among them. But crises need not necessarily turn into tragedies. This is a time of tremendous opportunities to introduce corrective measures to improve our way of doing things. The World Water Forum should be one of the key vehicles in this work.

I thank you for your support for this appeal, which goes to the heart of the work of the Forum. I entrust my advisor, Maude. Barlow, to help us rethink and join efforts to develop a truly representative legal framework for dealing with water.

Thank you



Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Turkish Interior Ministry official accuses multinational water corporation of grand-scale corruption in Turkey

The World Water Forum session “Beyond Water Bribes: How to build a corruption-resistant water sector” on Wednesday morning ended on a very different note from how the organisers presumably intended. The session featured presentations by representatives of French water multinational Veolia Environnement and Transparency International, both active members of the so-called Water Integrity Network (WIN). The debate focused on the dramatic consequences of water corruption and how best to prevent this. One can really wonder whether it is appropriate for Veolia, which is a notoriously corrupting company (condemned several times by French justice for bribery related to water contracts) to present itself as an authority on these questions. This doubt seems to be shared by Turkish anti-corruption authorities.

Mr B. Savur, Director at the Turkish Ministry of Interior, spoke from the floor and made his feelings clear. He began by explaining that the numerous investigations he had been ordering led to the conclusion that “grand-scale water corruption is usually of an international nature”. He notably quoted a corruption case in Turkey currently investigated by Turkish justice, involving a well-known international company which he would not specify for confidentiality reasons. The case involves a 250 millions dollars public procurement contract and the company, according to him, promotes this contract as a success story.

“I believe water-related crimes are crimes against human rights”, he said. Mr. Savur added that there is a structural problem in water-related corruption: water projects are long-term projects starting from the signature of the contact, whereas corruption is not revealed immediately. Too often, he remarked, it is too late to intervene. He concluded by suggesting that an International Tribunal for Water Crimes should be established to effectively tackle corruption in the water sector.


Police forces still crawling all over the WWF venue

Several witnesses have seen Turkish intelligence services checking computers available to journalists in the Press center, particularly Internet browser history.

Yesterday afternoon, during the High level Panel on Finance, one activist from Germany was forcefully taken out of the room by six police officers. Having been denied the microphone, he couldn't restrain his frustration when the panel's chair concluded the session by expressing his delight to have moderated such an inclusive and transparent debate. He shouted "If the WWF is so transparent and democratic, why don't you organise it under the UN instead of this corporate fair?"

He was detained for about 10 minutes outside the room while the officers reported the situation to their superiors, and was finally released. He was luckier than the two activists from International Rivers who were given the "choice" between a year in Turkish prison and deportation at their own expense to their home country.

According to an inside source, when two Turkish employees of the WWF turned for work, they could no longer access to the venue as they were deemed "too political".

The World Water Council has remained silent despite questions raised by media and activists on those unacceptable practices.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

World Water Forum opens with brutality and repression

A peaceful protest by Turkish civil society activists demanding an end to the corporate control of water was met with violence and repression by Turkish police this morning outside the World Water Forum in Istanbul. As representatives of a broad international coalition of water rights activists, the People’s Water Forum denounces this repression of civil society’s voice.

The forum refers to itself as an open and transparent process working for the right to water, but this repression reveals both the exclusive nature of the forum and a clear disregard for human rights.

At this moment, seventeen Turkish activists are in jail, having suffered brutality and abuse at the hands of the police. With respect for the sovereignty of the Turkish nation, we demand their unconditional release.

When questioned, Gerd Berkamp, Director of the World Water Council, refused to denounce the violence.

Just as the World Water Council is unaccountable to the overwhelming majority of people affected by the decisions made within its closed chambers, the arbitrary nature of this police violence demonstrates the brutality of the divide between those with access to social and political power and those without.

Contact: Anil Naidoo and Maude Barlow, +1 613 882 4405
Orsan Senalp, 05346040357


World Bank presents a new study evaluating the water privatization experiences at the Forum – covering up a biased neoliberal “science” and inquiry.

On the first day of the World Water Forum the World Bank together with the International Water Association kicked of their efforts over the next week by focusing on privatization of water and sanitation services, as so many previous Forums’ have before them. This took place at the session called “Towards a Vibrant Local Market Place – Opportunities and trends, experiences to date, and policy options for the future”. Philippe Marin from the World Bank opened the “ball” by presenting what he termed an extensive study of experiences with privatization contracts based on objective analysis. This provides a smoke screen disguising the neoliberal biased “scientific” approach.

The World Bank study acknowledged that privatization has not been the magic formula it was wrongly presented as by the Bank in the early 90s. This represents a more defensive and careful approach to the history writing of the experiences with privatization, often having been arrogant and in denial of the flaws and the disastrous outcomes of such a strategy for poor people lacking the ability to pay increased tariffs. However, ignorant is still an appropriate word to describe the methodology and the way this study was conducted. On those premises it is not surprising that the overall conclusion is that privatization reforms still should and can contribute to ensure access to water.

The World Bank is still walking down the same path, characterized by a fixation with quantitative data in the form of measuring rates of bill collection, non revenue water, water losses and other indicator of so called “efficiency”. At the outset of the presentation Marin emphasized that the study was undertaken on the basis of “objective performance data”. In other word the World Bank continues to think inside the box, where “efficiency” measurement is “king”. This is not objective, as wrongfully claimed – but instead tied to an ideological obsession within the Bank related to neoliberal ideas about operational and economic efficiency without also looking at and integrating social and welfare considerations. It is not only a numbers game, but must also take into account the qualitative (data) context in developing countries. Consequently, important aspects are bypassed - following the World Bank’s mode of thought and line of inquiry – such as the fact that poor people often do not have ability to pay for the increased prices in the wake of implementing privatization. Thus, privatization leads to a real and substantial socio-economic exclusion from the deadly important access to water and sanitation. Running counter to this Marin was still claiming that “price increase does not mean anything”. The comment was a response to the findings of the (still quantitative) report data showing that a tariff increases followed the act of privatization in all cases. Marin explained “that this was of course not surprisingly when earning money is what private companies is set out to do”, like he was a rocket scientist.

The neglect of socio-economic contextual issues was rejected by water justice activists in the audience, as was also the depolitization of the study presented. The political and democratic citizenship aspects and a lack of substantial participation were not addressed. It is tune with the World Bank overall attempts, in water and other sectors, to consistently depolitize the debate about development.

This takes us to the a more general remark, which is the total lack of taking the political context into consideration - not looking at implications of relative power differences, where the interests of private, wealthy consumers is favored over disempowered poor people - neither providing them with cross subsidized services nor a voice. Again, this is ideological and value laded corresponding to a neoliberal individualistic and voluntaristic approach where power difference and structural economic/political constraint for poor people is absent. Therefore, there is a need to look beyond the immediate hang-up with numbers and figures, also incorporating an analysis of structures that leads to economic and political unevenness. This might for example be neoliberal discursive ideology or the economic structures pressuring for complying with a “demand” of being competitive in an international economy. Both might lead to cut-backs in welfare and social spending, hindering subsidized access to water for poor people, in an effort to follow the mantra of national macro-economic stability and tight social budgets. For the last and final time, this is revealing the underlying and covered-up ideologically neoliberal “scientific” bias of the alleged “objective performance data” in the study on privatization. If this was a genuine attempt and desire to study the experiences with water privatization, it should at least have been undertaken by the World Bank’s independent evaluation office. But then I guess the outcome would not have been as the Bank intended, when they and we are aware that the World Bank’s Operations Evaluation Department have put forward a critique and a different conclusion in a (2005) report summarising recent evaluations of the World Bank’s “development effectiveness”. The report states that the record of attempts to unbundle and privatise infrastructure has been poor, especially in water (privatising ineffective government corporations has been very mixed, and ‘voucher privatisation’ has been the worst of all). It also says that “the record shows persistent over-optimism on privatization” and recommends a rethink on the private provision of infrastructure.


Private sector proponents on the defensive in Istanbul

Late in the afternoon, on the first day of the fifth World Water Forum, attention in the main venue, Sülüce, turned to the issue of “Optimizing public and private in public services” - “Towards a vibrant marketplace – Opportunities and trends, experience to date, and policy options for the future”. The session was coordinated by members of the World Water Council (WWC) - a body that promotes private sector involvement in water management.

Philippe Marin, a senior water and sanitation specialist at the World Bank and a member of the Public Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility (PPIAF) (which also promotes private sector involvement) introduced the session, sharing details of the findings of a new World Bank (WB) study reviewing the experiences of Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) in developing countries. Given the high number of well-publicised failures, PPPs are no longer seen by the World Bank as a “magical formula”. But the study looked at whether those failures were actually distracting from the bigger picture... and although the author repeatedly stressed that his goal was not to determine whether the public or private sector was superior, and that the over-arching priority was to “find ways to improve services”, there was more than a suggestion at times that he believed the private sector held the upper hand.

The private sector, for example, was found to have a superior operational efficiency thanks to better bill collection rates, increased productivity (as a result of massive lay-offs) and lower non-revenue water rates (water produced but not sold due to leakage or theft). And he quoted a recent WB study (Gassner et al., 2008) showing that PPPs' impact on tariffs was neutral “when properly compared, i.e. with similar public utilities operating under framework that foster financial sustainability”. That is when compared with public utilities using private sector-inspired pricing methods...

All this led to: “Lesson 1: PPPs are a viable option for water”. As one participant from the floor said, all this gave the impression that the study's objective was not so much about finding the best policy options for water regardless of the private vs. public debate but “finding a way to save the private sector from its failures”.

Paul Reiter from the International Water Association (IWA) started by saying that “PPPs are not the solution” and a “more complex approach is needed”. This, he suggested, could involve “offering new services”, a greater focus on developing countries' private water operators, “alternative procurement models”... but stressing that “you need the private sector for service provision”. This, he suggested, could mean promoting the use of performance indicators and reserving a strong role to local public banks, an approach which echoes the private sector's current strategy of bypassing the public vs. private debate by insisting on narrow financially-driven performance measurement and public risk mitigation for private utility operations.

Other panellists included Jack Moss from Aquafed, the Federation of Private Water Operators, José Frade from the European Investment Bank (who stressed that the debate was going nowhere as long as political conditions for utility operations were not met, and that “PPPs are a disguised failure”) and Bjorn Von Euler from engineering company ITT.

Several participants challenged the panel from the floor, demanding to know why working conditions and poor people's access to water was not included in the operational efficiency definition. “Developing a network without allowing people access it was useless,” one said. Another criticised the “World Bank’s disproportionate focus on market solutions”.

Others highlighted how, despite the allegedly transparent and inclusive process, the WWF remained a corporate-driven, non-democratic process, which the 27 activists arrested during the morning's protest could bitterly testify.

Lance Veotte, from the South African Municipal Workers' Union (SAMWU), wondered after the conference about the coherence of the WWF's discourse: “At The Hague in 2000, it was all about the magical recipe of total private sector involvement, and now they acknowledge that it was wrong; why trust them now? The trust relationship is at stake”.

David Hall, director of Public Services Research Unit (PSIRU), said that “the World Bank and PPIAF are still completely inside the box on what private sector wants.” The result is that “we are confronted with a series of critical comments and questions getting increasingly agitated and aggressive”.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Turkish police charges protesters blocking WWF's entrance

At 9.30 this morning, a group of about 300 Turkish and international activists began a peaceful march towards the entrance of the 5th World Water Forum in Beyoglu to express their concerns about the political agenda of the event and prevent people getting inside. Turkish police forces, outnumbering by far protesters, quickly intervened and charged, using rubber bullets, separating Turkish activists from international protesters and violently dispersing the action.

17 Turkish activists from the "No to commercialisation of water platform" were arrested, mostly women who couldn't escape fast enough and one high-profile leader of anti-dam movements. Arrested activists are now in hospital, waiting for their transfer to Vatan police station where they might be prosecuted for illegal protest. The renowned Turkish hospitality seems to not apply to those critical of the World Water Forum.

Other activists then entered the WWF venue to protest against this inacceptable way of treating democratic protests and further challenge the World Water Council and Turkish government's water privatisation plans.

Mary Ann Manahan, Philipp Terhorst and Martin Pigeon


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Latin American governments call for water policy shift ahead of Istanbul water forum

A bloc of Latin American governments led by Uruguay is insisting that the World Water Forum's Ministerial Declaration must recognise the right to water, that water should be excluded from trade negotiations and that the World Water Forum should become part of a democratically accountable UN process. These and other progressive water policy demands - supported by a global coalition of civil society groups - were rejected by the US and European governments at negotiations ahead of the Forum held in Paris last week. Uruguay and other Latin American governments are now likely to seek support for a Complementary Declaration in opposition to the Forum's official Ministerial Declaration.


We, the Ministers or our representatives herein signing, declare the following before the participants of this Forum, the international community and the peoples of the world:

- Access to water with quality, quantity and equity and access to sanitation services, constitute fundamental human rights. The States, with the participation of the communities, must carry out efforts at every level to guarantee this right for their peoples. Therefore, we agree to continue to make every effort within the framework of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and other international forums to recognize and ensure this right is made effective.

- We manifest our profound concern about the possible negative impact that any international instrument, such as the Free Trade and Investment Treaties, could have on water resources. We reaffirm the sovereign right of the peoples to exclude water, in all its uses and services, from trade agreements.

- We reiterate the call on all governments and peoples to convene the upcoming VI World Water Forum in the framework of the international multilateral system, based on the principles of full participation and inclusion.

- States will place priority on the use of water and water supply for their populations.

- We exhort the international community to meet the commitments, repeatedly made, to support efforts made by countries to ensure access to water and sanitation services, promoting agreements and public-public cooperation.

- We will promote the declaration of the public dominion of water in every arena.

- We ratify what is expressed in 'Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States', approved by the United Nations General Assembly December 12, 1974, which establishes: "Every State has and shall exercise full permanent sovereignty, including possession, use and disposal, over all its wealth, natural resources and economic activities," adding that "In the exploitation of natural resources shared by two or more countries, each State must co-operate on the basis of a system of information and prior consultation in order to achieve optimum use of the resources without causing damage to the legitimate interest of others."

- Those using the service and civil society will participate in all water planning, management and control bodies.

- The states and communities will promote public-public cooperation processes to make possible participation and exchange, excluding any profit.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Turkey's Government Plans Sweeping Water Privatisation in Run-up to World Water Forum in Istanbul

Olivier Hoedeman and Orsan Senalp, April 2008

In March 2009 the Turkish government will host the fifth World Water Forum against a backdrop of what is probably the most sweeping water privatisation programme in the world. As well as privatizing water services, the government plans to sell of rivers and lakes. Turkish social movements, who hosted their own conference in Istanbul last month, suspect the Government is using the World Water Forum to push through this highly controversial agenda.

Previous sessions of the World Water Forum, held once every three years, have faced opposition from civil society groups who consider it an illegitimate, flawed platform for discussing solutions to the world's water problems. The Forum is controlled by the World Water Council, a private think-tank with close links to the World Bank and private water multinationals. This criticism is likely to become even more intense in the run-up to the March 2009 Forum, given the host government's radical privatiation push.

More than 350 people attended the two-day conference 'Water: Under the Yoke of Capitalism', which was organized by Supolitik Iletisim Agi (the Waterpolitics Network) with Turkish trade unions and civil society groups. In the opening session, Serhat Salihoglu from the Municipal Workers' Union (DISK) described the political context for the 2009 World Water Forum: the government - led by the conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) - wants to privatise all public services. Earlier that month, the government had presented proposals to deregulate public services. A new law would allow private firms to bid for concessions to run the country's water utilities.

This privatisation drive follows previous neoliberal reforms which have left local governments strapped for cash and unable to properly fulfill their water management obligations. Only 8% of municipalities have water treatments plants and 25% of industrial waste water is untreated. The government is also planning to weaken public agencies such as the Bank of Provinces and the State Water Works Agency, which will undermine the capacity for public planning and investment and leave municipalities at the mercy of international financial institutions with pro-privatisation leanings.

Tahir Ongur from the Istanbul branch of the Chamber of Geology Engineers (TMMOB) explained that the government not only wants to privatise drinking water supplies, but also the water resources themselves. Energy and Natural Resources Minister Hilmi Guler has announced that rivers and lakes will be sold to private companies, for periods of up to 49 years. The government believes that allowing private firms to build dams in rivers and lakes which they also own is the best way to overcome water shortages, both for drinking water and rural irrigation. As part of this unprecedented privatisation offensive, the government aims to rush through a constitutional reform before the March 2009 World Water Forum. The main target is Article 43 of the constitution, which limits private control of coastal lines, rivers, lakes, etc. and underlines that the public interest should take priority.

Diren Ozkan from Save Hasankeyf criticised the continued proliferation of destructive large scale dam projects in Turkey. A particularly shocking example is the Ilisu dam site on the Tigris River, which will drown the ancient town of Hasankeyf and many nearby villages, displacing 78,000 people, mainly Kurds. The dam will cause tremendous environmental destruction and flood hundreds of ancient sites.

Abdullah Aysu, President of the Peasants' Federation, spoke passionately against government policies for privatising agricultural irrigation. The plans to replace management by rural cooperatives with a system of concession rights sold to private firms would have disastrous consequences for subsistence farmers and their communities, who would lose their rights to local water resources. Groundwater in rural areas is seriously depleted due to uncontrolled drilling, but commercialization is not the answer. The only real solution to these problems, Aysu explained, is to shift to a more natural model of agriculture, which he described as "ecological democracy".

Water privatisation is not an entirely new phenomenon in Turkey. There are private water supply contracts in Arpacay and Corlu, as well as widespread outsourcing and subcontracting of the water supply across the country. In the city of Antalya, French water giant Suez pulled-out six years into a 10-year contract after the municipality rejected their demand for another price increase. The prices had already risen 130% and the company had failed to invest what was promised.

The new, more far-reaching wave of privatisation now orchestrated by the Turkish government, has already run into problems in a number of places. At the Istanbul conference, Dr. Ertugrul Tanrikulu of the "Edirne Water is Life Platform" talked about a serious corruption case that happened in the context of the planned privatisation in the city of Edirne. Earlier the same month, nineteen people were arrested, including the city's mayor Hamdi Sedefci and representatives from companies involved in the tender. A consortium of three Turkish companies had won the tender for 30-year contract to run the city's water, which also included installing water meters with an advance payment system. The consortium had placed an employee in the municipal department and distorted the tender conditions in their own favour. A police investigation revealed that the consortium was also planning to use corruption to influence water privatisation in nine other Turkish cities.

In large cities such as Izmir, Ankara and Istanbul, there are strong local grassroots campaigns for the right to water. As a result of political neglect and commercialisation, municipal water services have got worse and supplies are cut increasingly frequently. At the conference, Ilknur Birol from the People's Shelters association talked about local water struggles in poor communities, which are often led by women. One woman, whose family's water supply was cut off for 13 days, organized a demonstration, which attracted 3000 people. Birol called on social movements in Turkey to join hands in the run-up to March 2009 and create a strong water movement in Turkey.

This call was echoed by many other speakers. Salihoglu from the Municipal Workers' Union (DISK) called for mobilization against the World Water forum as the start of a new, different approach to solving Turkey's water crisis. Tahir Ongur of TMMOB warned that the Turkish government wanted to use the World Water Forum "to offer Turkey's water on a plate" to international financial institutions and construction companies. In March 2009, Ongur said, the financial players and large corporations will assemble in Istanbul, "but so will the global water movements".

The Turkish government hopes to use the World Water Forum to advance its sweeping privatisation plans, described by one conference speaker as "market fascism". On this background, one can only wonder how the World Water Council, the think-tank controlling the Forum, made the decision to give the Turkish government the role of Forum host for March 2009. On their website, the organisers of the World Water Forum in Istanbul "call upon the international water community to make concrete proposals so that better management of the resource may contribute to achieving the entirety of the Millennium Development Goals." The deeply irresponsible water policies of the Turkish host government reveal the emptiness of the World Water Council's feel-good rhetoric.

[Click here for full text with footnotes]