Water = politics

17 August 2007
Article
Water is a human right and a common responsibility that should not be dominated by the global private water industry.
This week the water world once more descends on Sweden. For the 17th year the World Water Week will be held in Stockholm. Dubbed, “Where the Water World Meets”, this event is increasingly looking like a venue where the corporate water world meets. This is why, this year, a group of international water activists, aligned with the Reclaiming Public Water Network will also be coming to Stockholm. For years Stockholm has been seen as a technocratic initiative, but as the event has become increasingly politicized, activists feel it is critical that a diversity of voices be heard at this important event. We will also be forging new alliances with Swedish activists and holding a public event to allow broader inputs into this important issue. Water is a life and death issue for billions living in water-stressed parts of the world. These people are the most marginalized and un-represented, both in their own countries and globally. Attempts must be made to ensure that their voices are heard and understood by the decision-makers and we urge the organizers of the WWW to do more to have these voices represented. Water must be treated in a different way than the goods that we buy and sell. Our message to the organizers of this event, Stockholm International Water Institute, is simple. Any discussions and decisions without inputs by those most affected will result in ‘solutions’ which risk doing more harm than good. The initiative for World Water Week was first taken by Stockholm Water Company, which is publicly run but now threatened by outsourcing and privatization promoted by the new political majority in Stockholm. There is however little discussion during World Water Week about how to strengthen and improve the public water systems which represent 95% of water systems around the world. Instead the WWW has fallen into the trap of believing that the only future for water is a private, market-based future. This is a dangerous and short-sighted vision of water which the social movements we work with around the world are vigorously opposing. One problem is that World Water Week is such an exclusive event. The costs are prohibitive, even for Northern activists to join. The costs for one activist are well over 10,000 SEK (half as conference fees). And this is without including flights. This hardly embodies a place that the whole water world can afford to meet when the conference fees alone represent a whole years wages for billions who are most affected by the global water crisis. The WWW has become a place where monumental decisions are being made and where the global deals on water are being struck, yet the door is closed to all but the most basic of inputs by those who are most affected. These same doors swing wide open, however, for those who have the money to participate. Among this year’s lead sponsors is Nestle, one of the largest water-bottling organizations, responsible for massive water-takings around the world and the subsequent pollution created by this industry. For a cost of 300,000 SEK, Nestle is offered, in the WWW’s own publications, that a sponsor can “…raise your corporate sustainability profile, meet the increasingly sophisticated demands of your customers, expand into new markets, and make new contacts.” Customers, markets, corporate sustainability profile… these are dangerous words when we are discussing something as fundamental as water. We believe water is a human right and a public trust. Water must be treated differently than the commodities we buy, sell and trade in this globalized world. If we do not address water differently, with respect and even with reverence, the suffering will continue and increase. This is why we cannot leave the debate in the hands of technocrats and corporations. Future generations, nature and all who suffer today from lack of access to clean water must be represented before we can hope to have sustainable solutions to this crisis.