Karunananthan speaking at the United Nations, May 2015.
On April 7, Blue Planet Project campaigner Meera Karunananthan participated in a Guardian debate on how to end water pollution in Latin America.
The Guardian had framed the debate as, “Latin Americans are not necessarily affected by water scarcity, but clean water scarcity. While the region’s water resources could provide each person with around 34,000 cubic metres of water every year, the average person only has access to just over 300 cubic metres. Across the continent, garbage, mining effluent, and industrial and agricultural waste are routinely dumped into water basins and aquatic habitats. …The result? Contaminated lakes, rivers and dams which expose people to toxins and disease, and reduce the availability of freshwater.”
While the nine-member panel included some allies – such as Claudia Campero Arena of the Alianza Mexicana contra el Fracking – it also involved people holding positions and views quite different from those of the Blue Planet Project, most notably a representative of the World Bank.
During the two-hour debate on the Guardian website, Karunananthan was able to make numerous key points. Three of her main points were reflected in the Guardian’s summation of the debate at 10 ways to end water pollution in Latin America.
Those points were:
Protect government sovereignty
“El Salvador has had a moratorium on metal mining in place since 2008. This is a powerful example of a small country standing up to industry. Unfortunately, El Salvador is now facing a lawsuit by Canadian-Australian mining giant Oceana Gold for acting in the interest of its own population. If this company actually got its way and were able to build its massive gold mine, it would jeopardise the Lempa River watershed, which is the source of drinking water for more than two-thirds of the population of El Salvador, and is also shared by Honduras and Guatemala.”
Respect community rights
“Central governments with the power to grant concessions must respect the rights of communities to say no to environmentally destructive projects, and the rights of indigenous communities to prior and informed consent before permits and concessions are granted. These rights are being violated throughout the region in favour or the ‘rights’ of big industries.”
Establish water justice
“We cannot limit our solutions to conservationist strategies because the problems arise from the political and economic decisions that have been made by governments, and also forced upon them by international financial institutions and foreign governments. As Susan Spronk and I noted in a recent paper about the Salvadoran water crisis, environmental movements in El Salvador are tackling the social and political factors that have determined how water is used and distributed. They have put forward bold proposals (for example, the recognition of water as a human right, a national water bill and a ban on metal mining) to permanently close the door to metal mining, improve access to water resources, and establish mechanisms for the social control of water. This is the type of solution that needs to be implemented everywhere.”
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