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Japan: World Water Forum

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  • ummyakoub
    Japan: 3rd World Water Forum: A Civil Society Backgrounder ======================================================= by Maude Barlow, Council of Canadians From
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 10, 2003
      Japan: 3rd World Water Forum: A Civil Society Backgrounder

      by Maude Barlow, Council of Canadians

      From March 16-22 of this year, an estimated 8,000 people from all
      over the world will gather in Kyoto, Japan, to attend the 3rd World
      Water Forum. There, decisions will be made about the future of the
      world's freshwater resources that will affect every living being on
      the planet. This memo is offered as a brief history of the events and
      players instrumental in the lead-up to this forum and is a critique
      of the private sector interests that have developed around the
      control of water.

      The Backdrop

      The world is running out of fresh water. Humanity is polluting,
      diverting and depleting the finite wellspring of life at a startling
      rate. Our per capita use of water is doubling every 20 years, at more
      than twice the rate of human population growth. A legacy of factory
      farming, flood irrigation, the construction of massive dams, toxic
      dumping, wetland and forest destruction and urban and industrial
      pollution has damaged the earth's surface water so badly that we are
      now mining the underground water reserves far faster than nature can
      replenish them.

      Quite simply, unless we dramatically change our ways, between one-
      half and two-thirds of humanity will be living with severe fresh
      water shortages within the next quarter century. The global fresh
      water crisis looms as one of the greatest threats ever to the
      survival of our planet.

      Tragically, this global call for action comes in an era guided by the
      free-market principles of what has been called the "Washington
      Consensus." This includes an unprecedented assault on the commons.
      Everything is now for sale, even those areas of life, such as social
      services and natural resources, that were once considered the common
      heritage of humanity. Faced with the suddenly well-documented fresh
      water crisis, governments and international institutions are
      advocating the privatization and commodification of water. Price
      water, they say in chorus; put it up for sale and let the market
      determine its future.

      At the same time, governments are signing away their control over
      domestic water supplies to regional trade agreements like NAFTA and
      the World Trade Organization (WTO). These global trade institutions
      effectively give transnational corporations unprecedented access to
      the fresh water resources of signatory countries. Already,
      corporations have started to sue governments in order to gain access
      to domestic water sources and, armed with the protection of these
      international trade agreements, are setting their sights on the
      commercialization of water.

      The Corporate Players

      There are ten major corporate players now delivering freshwater
      services for profit. Between them, the two biggest - Vivendi and Suez
      of France - deliver private water and wastewater services to over 200
      million customers in 150 countries, and are in a race, along with the
      others such as Bouygues SAUR, RWE-Thames Water and Bechtel-United
      Utilities, to expand to every corner of the globe.

      The performance of these companies in Europe and the developing world
      has been well documented: huge profits, higher prices for water, cut-
      offs to customers who cannot pay, little transparency in their
      dealings, reduced water quality, bribery and corruption. They are
      aggressively accelerating their operations in Third World countries
      where debt-struck governments are forced to abandon public water
      services and hand over control of local water supplies to private
      interests. Based on the market policy known as "full cost recovery,"
      the water companies are able to impose rate hikes that are
      devastating to millions of poor people who cannot afford privatized

      A new type of water consortium has emerged in Germany which may be a
      prototype for the future. Companies such as AquaMundo put together
      giant investment pools using overseas government aid, private bank
      investments and public utilities funds in the recipient country.
      Then, in an arrangement called "cross-border leasing," they hire
      local contractors to run the water services. Some keep their
      money in tax havens, thus allowing them to avoid paying national
      taxes; this lets them offer a "deal" to local cash-strapped

      Transnational water companies have become so powerful that they now
      share in decision making with governments in international meetings.
      United under the banner of the corporate lobby group, Business Action
      for Sustainable Development, the water companies played a pivotal
      role at the World Summit on Sustainable Development that was held in
      Johannesburg, South Africa, last August 26-September 4. There, with
      governments and the United Nations, they launched a "new" strategy
      for the delivery of efficient water and sanitation services to
      the world's poor which accelerates public-private partnerships,
      guaranteeing the companies a steady profit from public funds.

      Water for profit takes a number of other forms. The bottled water
      industry is growing at an annual rate of 20 percent. Last year,
      nearly 100 billion litres of bottled water were sold around the
      world - most of it in non-reusable plastic containers, bringing in
      profits of $22 billion to this highly-polluting industry. Fierce
      disputes, especially in the Third World, are being waged between
      local communities and companies like CocaCola and Nestle, aggressively
      seeking new supplies of "boutique water." As one company explains,
      water is now "a rationed necessity that may be taken by force."

      Corporations are now involved in the construction of massive
      pipelines to carry freshwater long distances for commercial sale
      while others are constructing supertankers and giant sealed water
      bags to transport vast amounts of water across the ocean to paying
      customers. The mass movement of bulk water could have catalytic
      environmental impacts. Nevertheless, the World Bank says that, "One
      way or another, water will soon be moved around the world as oil is

      The Institutional Players

      Private water companies are aided and abetted by a number of powerful
      international institutions with whom they work closely. The main
      source of financing of private water services in the Third World
      comes from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which demands
      private water services in exchange for debt relief, the World Bank,
      which can withhold project funds unless a country cooperates, and a
      myriad of regional banks, such as the European Investment Bank, the
      Inter-American Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the
      African Development Bank.

      The World Bank serves the interests of water companies through the
      International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which provides
      loans to governments and can impose conditions in exchange for money,
      and the International Finance Corporation, which provides direct
      capital funding.

      The World Trade Organization is another powerful institution that
      promotes the commodification of water. The WTO is mandated to remove
      tariff and non-tariff barriers to the free flow of goods, including
      water, across national borders and is negotiating free trade in water
      services through the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).
      The big water corporations have strategically positioned themselves
      to play an effective role in the WTO through two powerful lobby
      groups - the U.S. Coalition of Service Industries and the European
      Forum on Services.

      The United Nations has also been working closely with the big water
      corporations. In July, 2000, the UN announced a "Global Compact" with
      a number of global transnational companies, including Suez. And it is
      through UN conferences and forums that three important new
      international organizations promoting water-for-profit have been

      The Global Water Partnership was established in 1996 to reform water
      utility systems and water resource management around the world and is
      funded in part by the World Bank. The World Water Council, also
      formed in 1996, sees itself as a policy think tank whose main task is
      to provide decision makers with advice and assistance on global water
      issues. Made up of 175 member groups, the WWC organized the 2nd World
      Water Forum in The Hague in March, 2000.

      The World Commission on Water for the 21st Century, formed in 1998,
      is composed of 21 "eminent" persons and is mandated with fostering
      sustainable use of water resources.

      Representatives of the global water corporations are strategically
      placed at the top levels of all three of these agencies. Their
      industry association, the International Private Water Association,
      works closely with the World Water Council, the World Bank and the UN.

      The 2nd World Water Forum

      All of the above were major players at the 2nd World Water Forum held
      in The Hague in March, 2000, and are intimately involved in
      preparations for the 3rd World Water Forum to be held in Japan in
      March, 2003. From the beginning, the 2nd World Water Forum, which was
      attended by over 5,000 people, was designed to be a showcase for
      public-private partnerships and to create a "consensus" among
      all the "stakeholders" that privatization and full cost recovery are
      the answers for the world's water crisis. World Bank and water
      corporation officials dominated the positions of power in every
      session; civil society groups were not even given a place to meet.
      Translation services for the myriad of non-English speaking delegates
      were non-existent.

      The World Water Council presented its pre-written World Water Vision
      report endorsing an aggressive water-privatization agenda to the
      Forum as a "fait accompli." The Vision, which also recommended a
      corporate model of agriculture, was adopted by the powers that ran
      the event, even though the statement was opposed by the majority of
      civil society groups present.

      As well, pushed by corporate representatives, the 140 governments
      officials who attended the Ministerial Conference attached to the
      Forum, agreed to weaken their final declaration. Instead of water
      being declared a "basic human right" (which would mean that
      governments were responsible for ensuring that all their citizens
      have access to water on a not-for-profit basis), the government
      delegates agreed only that water is a "basic human need," thereby
      opening up the water market to companies on a for-profit basis.

      However, it was not so simple for the organizers of the event. A new
      international coalition of civil society organizations and trade
      unions came together in the Hague to challenge the
      corporate "consensus." The Blue Planet Project, made up of groups
      from many countries, launched an "international effort to stop the
      privatization of the world's fresh water" and challenged the
      Forum organizers from the floor, at press conferences, and with
      a "NGO Major Group Statement" to the Ministerial Conference. This
      statement rejected the World Water Council's Vision, asserted that
      water is a basic human right and called for the decommodification of

      The 3rd World Water Forum

      Since The Hague, civil society groups have been growing and
      consolidating their work. They met at the World Social Forum in Porto
      Alegre in January, 2002, and at the World Summit on Sustainable
      Development in Johannesburg, in August, 2002. With international
      groups present, Japanese civil society organizations met in
      March, 2002, to plan their strategy toward the 3rd World Water Forum.
      There, they agreed to participate in the Forum as long as the goal
      was to put forward a clear alternative vision and strategy to the
      World Water Council.

      This planning was further evolved at an international strategy
      meeting held in Ottawa in October, 2002. Here participants agreed
      that the main goals would be to split the World Water
      Council "consensus" on a corporate model of water governance and to
      promote a new democracy model of water governance. It was
      understood that the Forum, unlike a meeting of the World Bank or the
      WTO, will attract thousands of people who might actually agree with
      the emerging civil society consensus around water and that it is
      essential to put forward an alternative vision at the event.

      The 3rd World Water Forum in Kyoto will play a major role in
      determining the future of the world's freshwater resources. Civil
      society must be there in strength. Future generations depend on it.




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