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NEWS: Barlow on next week’s Millennium Development Goals summit

The Globe and Mail reports today that, “Faced with the looming failure of most of their anti-poverty goals as the deadline approaches, nearly 150 world leaders (including Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama) will hold an extraordinary summit in New York next week (September 20-22) to try to salvage their ambitious plan. The summit at the United Nations is aimed at rescuing the Millennium Development Goals, a bold set of targets for slashing poverty worldwide by 2015. A decade after the UN set those targets, it’s increasingly clear that none of the goals will be achieved by the deadline – especially in Africa, where the gap on some goals is as daunting as ever.”

According to the United Nations, the MDGs, a series of targets for reducing social and economic ills, all by 2015, includes the goals of halving the proportion of people who cannot reach or afford safe drinking water and halving the number who do not have basic sanitation.
The Inter Press Service reports that, “A statement unanimously approved by over 2,500 water experts at the conclusion Friday of the (week-long) Stockholm international water conference pointedly says: ‘We urge the participants of the high-level plenary meeting on the MDGs to recognize fully, and act upon, the fundamental roles of water resources, drinking water, sanitation and hygiene for achieving the MDGs.’ The experts also said the management of water resources, water services and sanitation are some of the most cost efficient ways to address the MDGs. According to U.N. estimates, over 2.6 billion people have no access to basic sanitation while over 800 to 900 million people have no access to safe drinking water. Continuing to neglect water and sanitation, the statement affirmed, ‘is a recipe for disaster, and the failure of all MDGs’.”

“Maude Barlow of the Canada-based Blue Planet Project told IPS water is at the heart of everything: ‘No clean water, no food; no clean water, no health; no clean water, no schools; no clean water, no equality of rights; no clean water, no peace.’ Water and sanitation should be far higher on the priority list as an essential goal without which none of the others can be achieved, she added. The path to a water secure world is a huge part of the answer to conflict, climate crisis, poverty and injustice, said Barlow, who also served as a senior advisor on water to the president of the U.N. General Assembly two years ago. She challenged the statement in the outcome document that there has been positive movement on the goals on water and sanitation. ‘While I acknowledge, of course, the hard work of many non- governmental organisations (NGOs) and some governments to dealing with this crisis, the simple fact is that the U.N.’s own agencies and others are telling a different story – one in which the crisis is deepening all over the world,’ she said. Barlow pointed out that a recent World Bank report found that by 2030, demand for water will outstrip supply by 40 percent. And the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) says that right now, one in three Africans do not have adequate access to water and sanitation, but that at current rate of demand, and in the next one to two decades, one in two Africans will not have access at all. ‘This is a direct contradiction to the statistics we are seeing from the MDG report,’ she said, adding, ‘Finally, I have long been concerned that the MDG goals do not take into account ecosystem protection and restoration.’ Success of the goals is defined by the number of pipes built and the number of people who technically have more access, in spite of the fact that often this water is either not safe or not affordable because it is beyond the price range of much of the population. At the same time, said Barlow, very little attention is paid to the fact that humans are pumping groundwater far faster than it can be replenished and extracting and polluting our rivers and lakes to death. There is not enough groundwater for all even if the MDG goals were to succeed brilliantly, without a major new commitment to protecting source water and rebuilding ecosystems. This, of course, would totally challenge the doctrine of unlimited growth and unregulated global trade all governments are so keen on and that is the heart of the problem, she said. ‘The MDGs on water? Too little, not focused properly, not put in the larger context that would lead us to a more just and sustainable world and a solution to all of the other MDG goals as well,’ Barlow declared.”

In her book Blue Covenant, Barlow writes that the “appalling disparities” in access to water “have rightly created a demand and a commitment to providing water for the 1.4 billion people currently living without it.”

But she adds, “The UN Millennium Development Goals include reducing by half the proportion of people living without safe drinking water by 2015. While laudable, this initiative is failing not only because the UN has worked with the World Bank to promote a flawed model for water development, but also because it assumes that there is enough water for everyone without seriously addressing the massive pollution of surface waters and the consequent massive overmining of groundwater supplies. …Although it had been promoting water privatization as one option several years prior to 1993, in that year, the World Bank adopted the Water Resources Management policy paper, which noted the ‘unwillingness’ of the poor to pay for water services and stated that water should be treated as an economic commodity… Water privatization also became a key component of the World Bank’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPS), the primary strategic and implementation vehicle used to reach the UN Millennium Development Goals and the framework agreements through which developing countries receive international aid. …Since the (UN conference in Dublin in January 1992), the United Nations, under former secretary-general Kofi Annan, has promoted private sector involvement in water services in a number of ways.”

Writing about the World Summit on Sustainable Development, that took place in Johannesburg in August 2002, Barlow notes, “The water companies wanted to cash in on the lucrative contracts that would open up if the summit endorsed private-public partnerships as the main delivery model to implement the UN Millennium Development Goals and they wanted this access sanctioned by the United Nations and the 189 governments present at the Johannesburg gathering. …So it can come as no surprise that the UN Millennium Development Goals …were flawed from the beginning because of the deep involvement of the water transnationals. The freshwater component of the MDGs …is now further away than ever.”

Barlow concludes, “If the World Bank, the United Nations and northern countries were serious about providing clean water for all, they would cancel or deeply cut the Third World debt, substantively increase foreign aid, fund public services, tell their big bottling companies to stop draining poor countries dry and invest in water reclamation programs to protect source water. They would also tell the water companies that they no longer have any say in which countries and communities receive water funding. …Citizens in First World countries need to recognize and challenge the hypocrisy of their governments, many of whom would never permit foreign corporations to run and profit from their water supplies, but who continue to support the global financial and trade institutions that commodify water in the Third World. Many in the water justice movement work with fair trade groups to create a whole new set of rules for global trade based on sustainability, cooperation, environmental stewardship and fair labor standards. They also promote a tax on financial speculation; even a modest tax could pay for every public hospital, school and water utility in the global south.”

Today’s Globe and Mail report adds that, “Last week, diplomats agreed on a draft of a 31-page document that will be adopted at the summit in New York next week. According to a draft agreement released by the UN on Monday, the world leaders will say that they are ‘deeply concerned’ about how the poorest countries were hurt by the global economic crisis last year. ‘It has reversed development gains in many developing countries and threatened to seriously undermine the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015,’ the draft reportedly says. Despite the setbacks caused by the crisis, the millennium goals can still be met if there is ‘renewed commitment’ and “intensified collective action” by all of the UN member states, the draft says.”

The Council of Canadians’ Blue Planet Project organizer Anil Naidoo will be in New York next week for the UN Milliennium Development Goals summit.

While there he will attend three key events: ‘Our Nature is Not for Sale’ on Tuesday September 21; ‘Water and Palestine’ on Wednesday September 22; and a high level meeting with civil society leaders on Thursday September 23.

The Globe and Mail article is at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/africa-mideast/extraordinary-un-summit-aims-to-rescue-millennium-development-goals/article1706212/. The IPS article is at http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=52814. The excerpts from Blue Covenant can be found on pages 5-6, 37-41, 44-45, 55, and 160.