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NEWS: Latin Americans urged to use the courts to defend their right to water

The Inter Press Service reports, “Local communities in Latin America should go to court more often to fight for access to drinking water, regarded as a universal right, and combine legal action with social protests and political lobbying, experts say. …Last year the United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution recognising access to water as a basic human right, which was made binding a month later by the Human Rights Council. Member countries must reform their legislation to be in compliance. …Countries like Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador and Uruguay have already incorporated the universal right of access to water in their constitutions, as well as amendments declaring water resources to be a public good.”

Javier Gonzaga, a member of the Environmental Conflicts Observatory at the state University of Caldas in Colombia, states, “People have already realised that legal action can be used as a last resort, because judges are less tainted by politicisation. Courts are accepting lawsuits related to water rights, and legal confirmation makes those water rights enforceable.”

The article notes, “A proposal for a constitutional amendment on water rights is pending in Mexico, as well as a reform of the 1992 National Water Law. ‘The Water Law should be modified in a year’s time. We hope the spirit of the U.N. declaration (that water is a human right) will permeate the new law,’ said María Emanuelli, from the regional office of the Habitat International Coalition. ….(In terms of a court challenge), Mexico provides a precedent, as in September a federal court ruled in favour of a resident in the community of Xochitepec in the central state of Morelos, about 100 km south of Mexico City, that had been without water services since the 1980s. As a result, 100 poor families were able to get access to water in an area where luxury homes exist side by side with waterless neighbourhoods.”

“The warnings by environmentalists and academics are particularly important because at least seven hydroelectric projects in Mexico are facing local opposition. …Esteban Castro, the coordinator of WATERLAT, criticised the construction of large infrastructure works that jeopardise people’s right to water. ‘The present conflicts are to protect water from pollution, to protest against the imposition of large construction projects and against insufficient protection against risks, and to defend water resources as a common good’, he said. …(An example given is) the El Naranjal hydroelectric complex, which would involve diverting the Blanco river (and reduce the flow of water in the river by 92 percent). …People in eight municipalities in the southeastern Mexican state of Veracruz, have organised a Committee called Defensa Verde, Naturaleza para Siempre (Green Defence, Nature Forever) to oppose its construction…”

This discussion took place at “the Third Annual Meeting of the WATERLAT network, made up of researchers in Latin America and the Caribbean studying governance and citizenship in water management and environmental health, on ‘the struggle against water inequality and injustice in Latin America and the Caribbean’, (which took place) Oct. 24-26 meeting in Mexico City…”

In her blogs, Mexico City-based Blue Planet Project organizer Claudia Campero Arena, who attended the Indignez-Vous! conference on Oct. 21-23 in Montreal, has highlighted the constitutional amendment on the right to water in Mexico, http://canadians.org/blog/?p=10457, the Zapotillo dam (a water diversion project that would displace people in the communities of Temacapulín, Acasico and Palmarejo), http://canadians.org/blog/?p=9459, the privatization of water services in Mexico, http://canadians.org/blog/?p=9874, the Mazahuas (indigenous people that see their water taken to Mexico City), the Parota dam project (that would affect 100,000 people), the heavily polluted Río Santiago, and a nearly lost lake in Acuitlapilco, http://canadians.org/blog/?p=5742.

On November 24-25, Campero Arena will travel to Guanajuato City given the threat of a water privatization there. SIMAPAG (Sistema de Agua Potable y Alcantarillado de. Guanajuato) is presently a financially autonomous public utility with an independent administration that is subject to regulatory oversight by a governing council of municipal representatives and citizens who are appointed by the elected municipal government. Watch for a blog from her on that situation in late-November.

The IPS article can be read (in English) at http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=105647 or (in Spanish) at http://www.ipsnoticias.net/nota.asp?idnews=99450.