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NEWS: UN special rapporteur says right to water must guide Rio+20 talks

Catarina de Albuquerque

Catarina de Albuquerque

A media release issued yesterday by Catarina de Albuquerque, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to water and sanitation, states, “The independent expert stressed that the international human rights standard on water and sanitation agreed at the UN must guide the negotiations at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Brazil in June and the post-2015 development goals. ‘I am confident that UN Member States will integrate the human right to water and sanitation into future global agreements,’ she added.” She highlighted this in the context of concern that the right to water and sanitation had been removed from the ministerial declaration associated with the World Water Forum, http://canadians.org/blog/?p=14038.

Already, in November 2011, Council of Canadians water campaigner Meera Karunananthan wrote, “Upon learning at meetings at the United Nations that a handful of G77 states were blocking inclusion of language on the human right to water and sanitation in their joint submission for the Rio+20 zero draft negotiating text, the Council of Canadians and 37 other organizations (including Food & Water Watch, Public Services International, and the World Future Council) from more than 20 different countries sent a letter calling on the G77 to include the human right to water in its submission.”

Now there is another effort underway by a grouping of states to remove the right to water language from Rio+20 text.

Blue Planet Project organizer Anil Naidoo has written, “In a leaked copy of amendments to the Rio+20 negotiating text, the European Union has called for removal references to the Human Right to Water and Sanitation. This dramatic move exposes the ‘Green Economy’ initiative for what it is, a regime that is not compatible with human rights as it clearly valued profit over people or nature. Pricing water, trading water rights and commodifying water are all clearly part of the ‘Green Economy’ and these are not compatible with implementing the newly recognized human right to water. In trying to change the text for the Rio+20 document, the EU has realized that in order to achieve their goals of a corporate Green Economy, they must remove reference to human rights.”

He adds, “In paragraph 67 of the Water section of ‘The Future We Want’, the original draft read: ‘We underline the importance of the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.’ The European Union leaked text wants that changed to read: ‘We underline the importance of universal access to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.'”

And given the Harper government recently pushed – apparently successfully – to have the right to water removed from the World Water Forum ministerial declaration, we can expect that it will be working with the European Union to do the same with the Rio+20 declaration in the lead-up to the Earth Summit this June.

Their green economy promotes privatization, big dams, water markets
The United Nations News Centre reported in October 2011, “Successful water projects can serve as templates around the world and help to stimulate the adoption of green economies, a conference (in Zaragoza, Spain) run by the United Nations inter-agency group focused on water issues has heard (in preparation for the Rio+20 conference in June 2012). …The (Zaragoza conference) placed a special focus in showcasing already successful projects of how water can be a major contributor to developing a green economy.”

Specifically, those ‘green economy templates’ for water highlight, “the four major rivers project in the Republic of Korea; the reform of the urban water supply and sanitation sector in Yemen; water planning in Laos; and the improvement of the water supply in Burkina Faso.” But the project in South Korea includes the heavily-criticized construction of 16 dams in the main streams of four major rivers; the project in Yemen involved the decentralization of water and sanitation services to commercially run local corporations that set their own tariffs; the water project in Laos was a public-private partnership (P3); and the ‘improvement of the water supply’ in Burkina Faso involved market-oriented reforms that decentralized responsibility for water supply to municipalities which then contracted out service provision to local private companies. In Burkina Faso, Veolia was also brought in to improve the commercial practices of the public water utility.

Achim Steiner, executive director for the UN Environment Program, has pointed to the UNEP report ‘Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication’, which examines how a green economy would value ecosystem services. Gabriella Zanzanaini of Food and Water Europe has explained, “In a green economy world, the financialization of nature will take place through financial mechanisms, such as the creation of a virtual market to manage the allocation of our commons. Water markets and tradable rights, payments for ecosystem services, the economic value of ‘natural infrastructure’ are all instruments that are part of the green economy.” Naidoo adds, “We are already seeing in the climate negotiations that REDD (reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) represents a precursor to a full blown false green economy. This is a system which uses offsets and trading to give corporations and the North a way out of their obligations.”

Next steps
This week, Naidoo will be in New York at United Nations meetings on the green economy in an attempt to make key governments see the human rights implications of the Rio+20 agenda. At the same time, Karunanthan, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow and Blue Planet Project staff will be in Marseille fighting the World Water Forum. This intervention includes a global water justice movement meeting with de Albuquerque on Monday afternoon. This is significant because, as Karunananthan has noted, “The French government, host of the World Water Forum and strong proponent of water privatization, would like to see the event serve as a launch pad for the Rio+20 Earth Summit taking place in June.” In a positive sign, it has been reported that French president Nicolas Sarkozy has opted against the short trip from Paris to Marseille and will now not be attending the World Water Forum that he had previously been promoting.