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UPDATE: The corporate World Water Forum is dead

The corporate World Water Forum is dead. Long live the Alternative World Water Forum.

Wolrd Water Forum  

Many are now saying that the World Water Forum has seen its time come and go. While attendance at the last forum in Istanbul had been estimated at up to 25,000 people, even Benedito Braga, the chief organizer for the Marseille forum, admitted the day after it had opened that attendance here was at about 9,000 people. We have even heard reports that up to 1,000 lunches are now being thrown away each day because there are not enough people at the forum to eat those meals.

Some have said that Marseille is a much smaller city than Istanbul to explain why the attendance has dropped so dramatically. But this is a forum that does not attract the local population, it is a travelling trade show that has a primarily business audience. The local population is only left with the bill to pay out of the public purse and the mess to clean up afterwards.

In sharp contrast, the attendance at the Alternative World Water Forum has now exceeded 3,000 people and tomorrow’s attendance for the closing ceremony is expected to bring that number up to 4,000. Furthermore, a major march tomorrow afternoon is expected to draw up to 5,000 people. In an interesting twist, this year’s Alternative World Water Forum is actually bigger than the one that took place in Istanbul (even despite the population of Marseille being one-seventh the size of Istanbul!).

The other major difference is that the World Water Forum is stale and, in the words of Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow, “pathetic”. The Alternative World Water Forum, on the other hand, is full of energy and vitality, lively discussions and strategy sessions, artistic expression, good food, and much more. It is emblematic of a growing water justice movement that is more connected and focused on winning the implementation of the right to water and sanitation.

The challenges that remain are very real. The Ministerial Declaration of this World Water Forum purposely failed to affirm the United Nations recognized right to water and sanitation. This is a declaration that will be used to weaken other international statements on water and sanitation. It is also very clear that this first World Water Forum since the historic UN General Assembly vote on July 28, 2010 is trying to rewrite history, it is trying to erase the historical fact of the resolution that recognized these fundamental human rights.

While the World Water Forum may be dead, like a zombie, it doesn’t seem to understand that just yet. The World Water Council has already publicly stated that the next World Water Forum will take place in Daegu Gyeongbuk, South Korea (‘winning’ out over Glasgow, Scotland).

But the water justice movement is actively discussing the idea of democratic, accountable, transparent, non-corporate, and people- and nature-centred international forum on the implementation of the right to water and sanitation to be held by late-2014, several months before the planned corporate gathering in South Korea.

And so while there are still challenges, two key facts remain. 1) The United Nations General Assembly has recognized the right to water and sanitation. 2) The United Nations Human Rights Council has affirmed that these rights are contained in existing human rights treaties and are therefore legally binding and equal to all other human rights. Given that the corporate forum refuses to acknowledge this reality, it’s even more clear, as really was always the case, that they are the ones out of step, and that the Alternative World Water Forum is the true and legitimate water forum!