On March 21 the Canadian Press reported that, “The Conservative government has decided to inject money into a Canada-led United Nations water monitoring program that had been floating in cash-strapped limbo for the past three years.” The $2.5 million funding announcement means $500,000 to GEMS and $2 million for a water initiative at the University of Lethbridge and the University of Saskatchewan to complement GEMS.
This afternoon the Canadian Press reports that, “Critics say the Harper government’s plan to spend $500,000 a year for a global water program is an insulting drop in the bucket. Ottawa has promised $2.5 million over five years for the United Nations Global Environment Monitoring System. The Canada-led program tracks water quality at 2,700 monitoring stations around the world. But Sabrina Barker, the program’s senior adviser, says $500,000 a year is barely enough to keep the database going. Barker and Maude Barlow, the UN’s water issues adviser, say at least $2 million a year is needed to assess how freshwater is disappearing. Barlow says three billion people around the world have no access to running water within a kilometre of their homes – and the number is growing fast.”
As noted in the 2009 Alternative Federal Budget, “This Canada-led UN program that monitors the quality of freshwater around the world is an important contribution to addressing the global water crisis. To preserve this program, the AFB will meet the actual funding requirements in the GEMS program of $2.2 million per year.”
The Canadian Press first reported on this story on November 13, 2008. That article noted, “Canadian Maude Barlow learned of the impending water-program pullout less than a month into her appointment as the UN’s first adviser on water issues. ‘That Canada would remove this support from this program is just outrageous and an embarrassment,’ she said. ‘It’s yet another example … that the Harper government is parochial, that it sees its environment commitments really in terms of optics. I have people say to me around the world: whatever happened to your country? We used to be able to count on Canada to take stands. And now Canada is in some cases worse than the United States – just absolutely refusing to partake and participate in international programs.’”
It’s shameful that on World Water Day weekend the Harper government would oppose the human right to water at the World Water Forum in Istanbul (Prentice was on the CBC arguing that the right to water is ‘complicated’ and would mean bulk water exports, which is simply not true) and that it would give a pittance to a critical UN program and create the impression that they are making a real contribution to the monitoring of freshwater around the world.