The role of the private sector in tackling global issues surrounding water — or “water belongs to everyone”? — Marseille, France
The 6th edition of the World Water Forum took place in Marseille last week and brought together stakeholders in an attempt to mobilise creativity, innovation and know-how for tackling global issues surrounding water. The attendance list of the event, which has been held every three years since 1997, included thousands of industry representatives (e.g. of the water industry), government ministers, international representatives and civic organizations from some 130-180 countries.
According to the UN World Water Development Report launched at the Forum, increasing demand and ongoing climate change are threatening global water supplies. Not only is water access an imperative chapter for sustainable development and poverty eradication, but it is a human right recognised by 189 countries within the UN.
U.S. scientists concur with the fact that climate change brings unsustainable demands on the world's groundwater supply. This is used as nearly half of the world’s drinking water but recharges much more slowly than above groundwater sources. In some cases it is not renewable. “It is clear that groundwater will play a critical role in society's adaption to climate change”, said San Francisco State University geo-science Professor Jason Gurdak, who co-led a U.N.-sponsored group of scientists now calling on increasing regulations and conservation measures on non-renewable groundwater.
An Alternative World Water Forum (FAME) also took place in Marseille in parallel. Promoting a motto of “water belongs to everyone,” the trade unions, corporate watchdog groups and environmentalists behind FAME accuse the World Water Forum of “hijacking” their agenda with its calls for universal water access and sustainability. “Whoever controls water controls a great source of power and of course a great source of profit,” João Ferreira, a Portuguese member of the European Parliament from the European United Left group, said Tuesday at a Brussels meeting called by FAME organisers. “This resource cannot be managed privately … and untamed privatisation will lead to a disaster,” Ferreira said.
According to a video message by Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general of the UN, recorded before the event which gathers policy-makers as well as water industry representatives, the high-level World Water Forum “is an important opportunity to find solutions to help us to attain millennium goals”.
The adoption of a declaration on Tuesday included commitments to speed up access to safe drinking water and sanitation for all, focusing on the most vulnerable. Furthermore it acknowledged the imperatives of boosting efforts to cut water pollution, of reusing wastewater and of enhancing the coherence between water, food and energy policies, as well as implementing more flexible and integrated land and water resources management in order to build resilience to climate change.
Still earlier, Amnesty International and WASH-United, an international partnership for safe drinking water and sanitation, had warned that, if the declaration failed to reflect a full commitment to the rights to water and sanitation, “the Forum will have failed to even begin to meet its aspiration of providing solutions for those without access to water and sanitation”.
Catarina de Albuquerque, the U.N.’s first special rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, expressed disappointed and attested that the declaration did not “recognise the human right to water and sanitation that has been explicitly recognised at the UN”.
According to Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of the small U.S.-based NGO “Food & Water Watch” who attended the corporate forum, in “no place there was the cause of pollution mentioned”. To the contrary, instead of addressing water pollution issues , she said, the event “more clearly than ever” was a “corporate tradeshow parading as a multilateral forum” with the main objective of the water industry “to sell expensive services and products”, thus the organizers regarding “pollution as a profit centre to be cleaned by a range of technologies”. In her final evaluation she describes the declaration as “a step backwards for water justice”.