ISTANBUL - A global ministerial meeting was putting the final touches here Saturday to resolutions for tackling the world's water crisis but activists attacked the process as a corporate-driven fraud.
The communique to be issued by more than 100 countries on World Water Day on Sunday climaxes a seven-day gathering on how to provide clean water and sanitation for billions and resolve worsening water stress and pollution.
"The world is facing rapid and unprecedented global changes, including population growth, migration, urbanization, climate change, desertification, drought, degradation and land use, economic and diet changes," according to a draft seen by AFP.
The document, which is non-binding, spells out a consensus for boosting cooperation to ease trans-boundary disputes over water, preventing pollution and tackling drought and floods.
It also describes access to safe drinking water and sanitation as "a basic human need." France, Spain and several Latin American countries were striving to beef up this reference, from "need" to "right," a change that could have legal ramifications.
But campaigners representing the rural poor, the environment and organized labor blasted the communique as a sideshow, stage-managed for corporations who are major contributors to the World Water Council, which organizes the Forum.
Maude Barlow, senior adviser to the president of the UN General Assembly, said the Forum promoted privatization of resources by "the lords of water" and excluded dissident voices.
She called for the meeting to be placed under the UN flag.
"We demand that the allocation of water be decided in an open, transparent and democratic forum rather than in a trade show for the world's large corporations," Barlow told a press conference.
David Boys, with an NGO called Public Services International, said "transparency, accountability and participation" were absent from the Forum, and dismissed the ministerial statement as "vapid."
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Around 880 million people do not have access to decent sources of drinking water, while 2.5 billion people do not have access to proper sanitation, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said in a report on Tuesday.
By 2030, the number of people living under severe water stress is expected to rise to 3.9 billion, a tally that does not include the impacts of global warming, according to the OECD.
The World Water Council, based in the southern French city of Marseille, holds the World Water Forum every three years. The Istanbul conference, the fifth in the series, drew a record more than 25,000 participants, and registrations from at least 27,000.
The Council's website says it is funded by more than 300 member organizations from 60 countries, including water utilities, governments, hydrological institutions and associations involved in research, environment and education.
Its president, Loic Fauchon, rejected charges of elitism and exclusion.
"Everyone is invited, and in any case, everyone comes these days," he told AFP.
He added: "If it (the Forum) were organized by the United Nations, it would lose its characteristic of being open to all. In a UN conference, not everyone who wants to come can participate. In the World Water Forum, anyone can take part."
The Istanbul Forum has focused overwhelmingly on issues of policymaking and includes a big trade fair by water utilities and engineering firms.
It has also staged side events on issues of civil society, but to a far smaller degree than in other big environmental meetings.
Grassroots campaigners have complained of high registration fees, of geographical separation from the main conference events and of overbearing security.