An Inside Peek: Why the World Water Forum Is a Sham
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Behind the World Water Forum's public posture as a trade expo and an educational exchange among water advocates lies a labyrinth of political intrigue and corporate cronyism. Corporate interests that make up the World Water Council are in constant contact with the World Bank and other financial institutions; each Forum pretends to be a quasi-United Nations event, to the extent of issuing a Ministerial Statement at the Forum's close promoting global policy approaches to water and sanitation.
This year, Miguel D'escoto Brockman, President of the UN General Assembly, requested to be given an opportunity to publicly address the World Water Forum, but received no response from the Forum's organizers. Concerning D'escoto's effective exclusion, Maude Barlow, his Senior Advisor on Water, said, "The Forum portrays itself as a UN event. But the President of the UN General Assembly was denied the opportunity to speak. We could hardly have a more clear message about the Forum's priorities."
At each Forum, a series of roundtable discussions between government ministers, corporate lobbyists and NGOs leads to a final Ministerial Statement which, while it has no teeth in international law, plays a significant symbolic role in projecting policies on the ground. This process, which is coming to light as we reach the end of the Forum's third day, has reached a frenetic level of intrigue.
Juan Carlos Alurralde, advisor to the Ministry of Environment and Water of Bolivia, has reported that the words 'human right to water' have been excluded from the Ministerial Statement, replaced by the recognition 'that access to safe drinking water and sanitation is a basic human need.' In the minutiae of political verbiage, this apparently slight difference in terminology can have a profound significance. If water is "a human need," it implies no obligation on the part of governments to ensure access to it. If it is "a human right," on the other hand, a series of policy procedures follow suit to make compliance obligatory.
"Many countries tried to introduce the right to water into the Ministerial Declaration," said Alurralde, "however, there's been a strong opposition to this from the Ministers of Brazil, Egypt, and the United States."
According to Alurralde, when challenged by the his government to append annexes to the statement that would strengthen the right to water, the Turkish Ambassador chairing of the roundtable discussion said she could not make a decision without consulting the governors of the World Water Council.
"This process is clearly accountable only to the governors of the World Water Council, which reveals its illegitimate nature," says Anil Naidoo of the Council of Canadians, who is following the process closely.
As I write, a block of Latin American governments, with the support of the governments of Lebanon, South Africa, and the Czech Republic, is beginning to draft an alternative declaration in protest of the official statement, to demonstrate their opposition to the World Water Forum process, and to demand an alternative, UN-led framework to guide global water policy.
While this process happens entirely behind the scenes and is obscure to nearly all the Forum's participants, it is perhaps the most influential aspect of the event. Over the next two days we expect to see the intrigue come to a head.
Jeff Conant is the International Research and Communications Coordinator for Food and Water Watch.