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A right to water for the 99%

I have just returned from New York city where Darcey O’Callaghan from Food and Water Watch and I met to work on the next phases of our right to water campaign. More than a year after the UN General Assembly resolution recognizing water and sanitation as a human right, much remains to be done to ensure its implementation.

On Monday Catarina de Albuquerque, the Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation presented a report to the General Assembly on financing for water and sanitation. You can read a joint response by the Council of Canadians and Food and Water Watch here.

We also met with states in an effort to promote the creation of a platform outside the next World Water Forum in Marseilles for a civil society dialogue with governments on the right to water.

Held once in four years, the World Water Forum is the world’s biggest water trade show aimed primarily at enabling the corporations in the water industry to peddle their wares and influence public policy. The Council of Canadians has joined our allies in challenging the World Water Forum and supported alternative civil society forums. In previous years, progressive governments have met informally with activists within the alternative space. In Istanbul, at the initiative of activists, 20 governments signed a counter declaration to the official ministerial declaration, delegitimizing the corporate forum by breaking government consensus and recognizing water as a human right. Next year in Marseilles, the stakes will be even higher.

The next World Water Forum aims to give corporations a new boost under the banner of the green economy.

UNEP is calling water the engine of the green economy and 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.

Everyone knows that by the time the Earth Summit takes place, most of the policy decisions will already have been made. The business sector is scrambling to take advantage of the green economy to create new markets for itself. With the help corporate-friendly governments, corporations will use the green economy to pave the way for greater  access to scarce water resources through water markets, payment for ecological service (PES) schemes and privatization of water and sanitation services.

Run primarily by the public sector, corporations see water and sanitation as a large untapped market under the current circumstances of a deepening economic crisis. But community battles for public control have been fierce and highly publicized. There are now countless examples of communities that have taken their water and sanitation services back into their own hands. Hence the green economy provides new tools for corporations to enter the market arguing that they will bring the necessary innovation to green the sector, help it adapt to climate change and promote water conservation. We have to give it them. They are quite creative in coming up with new ways to make themselves richer.

In our efforts to put the brakes on the market-based green economy, the Council of Canadians and Food and Water Watch are hoping to facilitate a civil society dialogue with governments who are willing to step outside the corporate trade show in Marseilles to hear what we have to say on the environment and water. We already know that many within the G77 reject the green economy and see it as being imposed on them to promote Northern interests.

While in New York, I also had a chance to make a trip to Zucotti Park where Occupy Wall Street is still going strong. The discussions happening on the streets all over the world send a clear signal that people are rejecting models that benefit the 1% to the detriment of the 99%. Not only are people angry, they have developed the channels to communicate their anger and articulate alternative visions.

It is not enough for the UN General Assembly to recognize water as a human right, we need to make sure that it is implemented to serve the interests of the 99%. As a first step decision makers need to reject the privileged access of the corporate elite to policy making. We all want a say in ensuring an equitable distribution and responsible management of scarce water resources.