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VIEW: Resist the right to water, say Pardy and Corcoran

Bruce Pardy

Bruce Pardy

Queen’s University law professor Bruce Pardy writes in the Financial Post, “In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution that declared a human right to clean drinking water and sanitation. The resolution was approved by a vote of 122 to none. Forty-one countries abstained, including Canada, the United States, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, the United Kingdom and Japan. Their reluctance makes sense. In fact, in recent years the Canadian government has led resistance to the creation of international water rights, and should be congratulated for its foresight.” He states, “Depending on wording, international water rights could be given at least three different interpretations, all of them detrimental to the project of protecting water resources and maximizing access.”

In his op-ed, Pardy mistakenly argues, “(One) potential interpretation of international water rights is that dry countries have the right to be supplied with water from beyond their borders. Not coincidentally, many water-poor developing countries support international water rights. Many water-rich developed countries resist them. …The Council of Canadians, a left-leaning advocacy organization headed by Maude Barlow, has long supported the creation of international water rights, and has been overtly critical of the Canadian government’s reluctance. At the same time, the group advocates a ban on bulk exports of Canadian water. While there are valid environmental grounds for such a ban, the two positions are inconsistent with each other. The international right threatens to mandate water transfers, while a ban would attempt to prohibit them. Together, these positions amount to saying, ‘We support the international community’s right to water — but not to our water.'”

Barlow has repeatedly made the point over the years that a human rights obligation is between the country and its citizens, and that recognition of the right to water in no way affects a country’s sovereign right to manage its own water resources.

His argument – which we’ll refute – can be read at http://opinion.financialpost.com/2011/09/06/water-rights-all-wet/.

Also in the Financial Post, columnist Terence Corcoran writes, “Maude Barlow, Canada’s leading water activist, headlined (a) panel (at a Royal Ontario Museum panel on water in March). As head of the Council of Canadians, and Canada’s leading water activist, Ms. Barlow argued in favour of a United Nations move to create an international right to water — a plan

Terence Corcoran

Terence Corcoran

Queen’s University professor Bruce Pardy said would set a dangerous precedent. Ms. Barlow argued against turning water into a corporate commodity, subject to market prices. Prof. Pardy defended pricing and markets. As Prof. Pardy argues in an accompanying commentary, the UN water rights resolution offers no solution to any water issue.”

Corcoran also notes, “Beyond the ROM exhibit and panels, Ms. Barlow and others have been busy agitating for the much more aggressive water policies and concepts that are the real objectives of activists (which he says is having corporations measure, report and regulate their use of water). …Where this leads is perfectly clear to Ms. Barlow, who released a report claiming that water is leaking out of Canada and from countries around the world in unmeasured quantities. Leaky Exports: A Portrait of the Virtual Water Trade in Canada claimed that products from all over the world contained uncounted volumes of ‘virtual water’. A sheet of paper, it said, contains 10 litres of ‘virtual water content.'”

Corcoran’s overall point is not that clear, but it appears to be – “Water itself, essential to life, cannot be demonized in the same way oil has been. But human consumption of water — how it’s used, paid for and distributed — is easily described in terms that can turn water into the new oil. …The demonization of water consumption has begun.”

The United Nations projects that the global demand for water will outstrip supply by 40 percent within 20 years. And as reported by the Guardian UK, a report by the World Bank says that 42 percent of all the projected water demand will be required by just four countries – China, India, Brazil and South Africa.

Corcoran’s column can be read at http://opinion.financialpost.com/2011/09/06/terence-corcoran-making-water-the-new-oil/.

A blog on Barlow’s presentation at the ROM can be read at http://canadians.org/blog/?p=5779. Our virtual water report is at http://canadians.org/water/documents/virtual-water-0511.pdf.