Skip to content

UPDATE: World Water Forum blocks Barlow from addressing governments

The World Water Forum has blocked three governments from inviting Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow from speaking at a high-level panel tomorrow (Wednesday March 14) that will address ministers and government officials on ‘Making the Rights to Safe Water and Sanitation a Reality for All’.

The governments of Switzerland, Spain and Uruguay had invited Barlow, a former senior advisor on water to the president of the United Nations General Assembly in 2008-2009, to speak at this session given her leadership in the global campaign to have the right to water and sanitation recognized by the UN, and now for those rights to be fully implemented by national governments around the world.

But the World Water Forum, without first informing the governments that had invited her, sent Barlow an e-mail uninviting her. Pierre Walther, Focal point with the Ministerial Round Table on Human Rights to Water and Sanitation, wrote, “Your interest to participate in the MRT was brought to the attention of our organizing committee. We briefly discussed yesterday at a phone conference various possibilities to invite you to the MRT as a representative of the civil society. Unfortunately, this will not be possible.”

Earlier, Barlow turned down an offer to debate “public/ private involvement in the provision of water and sanitation services” which took place today in front of a largely corporate audience, while the ministers were elsewhere at their meetings.

Council of Canadians water campaigner Meera Karunananthan says, “This is emblematic of the undemocratic nature of the World Water Forum. It is very clear that the Forum is run by multinational water corporations that are trying to negate what has been achieved at the United Nations General Assembly.” Karunananthan adds, “International water policy discussions should be moved from the World Water Forum, dubbed the ‘Davos of water’, to a democratic, transparent public forum under the auspices of the UN.”

Last Friday, Catarina de Albuquerque, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to water and sanitation, was critical of the exclusion of these rights in the Forum’s Ministerial declaration, which is expected to be released later today. De Albuquerque said, “The World Water Forum is not a gathering seen as a source for the creation of international law, but it is still unfortunate that this Forum’s Declaration does not respect the outcomes of long-standing thorough and comprehensive discussions at the UN.”

It has been reported that “a very small minority of countries” push for the exclusion of these rights from being included in the Forum’s declaration. According to a statement from Amnesty International and WASH United, it was Canada and a few other countries that successfully pushed to remove language directly affirming the human right to water and sanitation in a World Water Forum preparatory meeting. While the declaration lacks the transparency and due process of a UN resolution and is not legally binding, it does set a negative precedent against an established human right.

“On July 28, 2010, 122 countries – including Switzerland, Spain and Uruguay – voted in the UN General Assembly to recognize the human right to water and sanitation,” says Barlow. “Every country, with the exception of Canada and the South Pacific nation of Tonga, have now recognized these rights. By blocking governments to invite me to speak and by facilitating a process that allows a small minority of countries to remove language recognizing the fundamental rights from the declaration, the World Water Forum has made itself into a historical anachronism.”

Barlow arrived in Marseille yesterday evening and will participate in the Alternative World Water Forum, organized by global civil society groups starting tomorrow. She is demanding an end to the World Water Forum (scheduled to meet again in South Korea in 2015), requesting a UN conference on the implementation of the right to water and sanitation worldwide, and calling on the Canadian government to recognize the human right to water and sanitation and fulfill this international obligation in Canada.