I am in Marseille, France this week, home to some of the biggest water multinationals, to participate in two parallel events on water in a resource-constrained world. From March 12–17, the 6th World Water Forum brings together multilateral agencies such as the World Bank, governments, water professionals, water technologists, development organizations and of course the multinational corporations involved in water. Many development organizations participate in the event because the discussions here influence national and regional decisions that affect poor and marginal groups around the world.
On the outside, I will also be participating in the Alternative Water Forum, a parallel event for water advocates promoting water solutions that are inclusive, fair and rights based. IATP has been involved since 2002 in the planning of these alternative water events.
Much of our advocacy inside the WWC-organized forum has been in response to the refusal by the ministerial of the forum to recognize water as a right. In fact IATP’s campaign on the right to water began in response to the 2nd World Water Forum Ministerial Declaration in 2000, which said that “water is a need,” despite demands to have it recognized as a basic human right.
The issue has come a long way since then as a result of struggles around the world, and work by committed individuals in CSOs and governments at various levels. The human right to safe drinking water and sanitation is now recognized by the United Nations General Assembly, the Human Rights Council and the World Health Assembly (resolutions A/RES/64/292, A/HRC/RES/15/9, A/HRC/RES/16/2, A/HRC/RES/18/1 and WHA 64/24).
But the WWC-organized forum has not yet reached even this far. In its current form, the draft Ministerial Declaration of the 6th World Water Forum only commits signatories to implement “human rights obligations relating to access to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation.” This carefully imprecise language leaves open the issue of whether access to safe drinking water and sanitation is a human right. The language thereby leaves room for states to individually determine whether their human rights obligations require them to realize the right to safe drinking water and sanitation for all. Such retrogressive language on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation would set a negative precedent. (Please see our joint call to the 6th World Water Forum in this regard. We thank our colleagues at Wash-United and Amnesty International for initiating this letter ).
The alternate forum is seen by water justice advocates as an opportunity to work with others concerned related issues, especially climate justice, agriculture and food sovereignty, and financialization of the commons. This year, in addition to organizing a CSO-government dialogue, we are co-organizing workshops on land/water grabbing; climate and financialization; and agro-ecological solutions to deal with multiple crises. The last is a follow up to the workshops we held during the last alternative water forum (2009) in Istanbul based on an IATP paper, integrated solutions to multiple crises.
In addition, inside the WWC-organized Forum, IATP, with our colleagues from water justice community, will be holding a side event on “Water in the Green Economy” that will examine the implications of the so-called “green economy” for sustainability, food sovereignty and the right to water. In addition, inside the forum, I will also be participating as a panelist in a multi-stakeholder dialogue on “green growth,” advocating for agroecological approaches in a session on food security and smallholder agriculture and attending ministerial round table on right to water.