French Alternative Water Forum Says ‘No’ to Privatisation
Over a decade later, roughly 1.8 million children continue to die each year as a result of diarrhoea, and some 443 million school days are lost annually due to water-related illnesses, according to the latest data provided by the United Nations’ 2006 Human Development Report.
In addition, over 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water, and 2.6 billion people lack even the most basic sanitation.
A week ahead of the World Water Forum (WWF), slated to run from March 12-17 in the Mediterranean city of Marseille, France, organisers told a press conference that they were determined to bring "concrete solutions" to the problem of water distribution and scarcity.
Even though commitments made in the past may not have been followed with concrete solutions, sponsors of the event defended the Forum as a necessary space in which to debate and raise awareness on various water crises.
But as plans forge ahead for a convergence that has, since its inception in Marrakech, Morocco in 1997, failed to bring about lasting solutions to the world’s water problems, activists are gathering a few kilometers away from Marseilles to articulate a different agenda.
Organisers of the Alternative World Water Forum (known by its French acronym FAME), which will take place simultaneously as the WWF, see the Forum as an outmoded apparatus, lagging woefully behind a growing movement for "water justice" around the world.
"If the right to water was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly on Jul. 28, 2010, it is not thanks to the (WWF). Rather, it is thanks to our fight and to social movements," Jean-Claude Oliva, water expert and active participant in FAME, told IPS.
He criticised the failure of the 2009 WWF in Istanbul to include "access to water" as a basic human right in its final declaration, a formula demanded primarily by a block of Latin American states.
Though it has been announced that the upcoming Forum will officially recognise this right to water in its next declaration, many believe that this is simply a media strategy, designed to co-opt the idea as its own and appear more inclusive of civil society.
The image of the WWF as a democratic space has also been mounted on the Forum’s ‘Platform of Solutions’ and through its ‘Grassroots and Citizenship’ commission.
However, these moves have done little to change the Forum’s reputation as "a Davos of Water", said Laurent Flety, local organiser with FAME, referring to the World Economic Forum that is notorious for being a talking shop, resulting in little concrete action.
Indeed, one of the primary objections to the WWF is that its decision makers often defer to private companies to make critical decisions about water distribution; numerous CEOs, including the heads of multinational titans like Coca-Cola and Nestlé, have been invited to address attendees at high-level panels.
"They (WWF) calls upon the private sector to solve the problem and we refuse this because (corporations) will privatise and monitor water all over the globe," Kim Lê Quang, a Belgian representative of FAME, told IPS.
In contrast, FAME will gather over 1000 people from at least 50 countries around the world to share their experiences of public management of water resources. They aim to pressure governments to include the right to drinking water and sanitation in national constitutions, as a means to ensure the implementation of the right to water as a basic human right.
Their primary goal is to promote public management of water, especially through "public-public partnerships" (PUPs), which they see as benefiting all stakeholders. Establishing a non-commercial relationship, the municipality can provide a transparent and accountable service, involving grassroots civil society and thus enhancing the whole community by building management capacity at the local level.
In order to assist communities from the developing world to repossess their water service, the sewage authority for Paris, SIAAP, developed a partnership with the city of Hue in Vietnam, to empower locals to renovate and plan the future design of the sewage system.
Likewise, the public water authority for Paris, Eaux de Paris, worked with the engineering school of Sfax in Tunisia, to share techniques and best practices.
FAME commends such partnerships, and calls on governments to spread those ideas worldwide.
According to the geopolitical expert Daniel Van Eeuwen, if such momentum keeps up it could eventually allow communities to set affordable prices for everyone, instead of relying on market- and profit- dictated prices.
Though the movement is still nascent in France, the overtly political battle for water as a public good and a human right began in earnest with Bolivia’s water wars in 2000, when local communities waged fierce protests against the privatisation and commodification – and the soaring prices that immediately followed – of water.
As a result, Van Eeuwen explained, there is strong awareness of the evils of privatisation in Latin America, which has the strongest public ownership of natural resources of any region.
The Bolivian model of expelling transnational corporations that tried to control local water supplies was emulated across Latin America and elsewhere, because "these companies did not keep the promises they made (to the people) when signing contracts," explained Oliva.
"The privatisation model is failing, and advances neither the right to water politically nor concrete access to water for people (in need)," he concluded.
FAME hopes to address these issues by being an alternative voice loud enough to drown out the din from the WWF next week.