ISTANBUL - "Women in LDCs bear the brunt of economic and social hardships," said Wubitu Hailu, managing director of an Ethiopian NGO, the Kulich Youth Reproductive Health and Development Organisation. The failure to provide access to basic services like clean water and electricity is a major factor preventing women from realising their full potential.
"In Ethiopia, for instance, women travel long distances looking for water and they risk getting raped, abused and abducted. They end up getting involved in early marriages, early pregnancies and unwanted children.
She said a cycle of poverty continues to be perpetrated because of this. "These chores are hampering the social and economic development of women around the world and especially in the LDCs."
Hailu said access to water and energy should be basic human rights. She said these services are currently being denied to the people of LDCs.
Up to 2.5 billion people worldwide find basic daily tasks like lighting their homes, cooking a meal or heating water a challenge, according to delegates to the civil society forum at the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC-IV) currently taking place in Istanbul, Turkey.
A supply of clean water must be guaranteed for everyone and not conditioned on the ability to pay, according to Maria Lourdes Tabios Nuera, a campaigner for Jubilee South-Asia/Pacific Movement on Debt and Development.
"Water sources must be shared equitably by all and need to be protected and managed properly, democratically and sustainably. Control over water resources and services must be in the public domain and should not be privatised," said Nuera.
In the last two decades, there has been a vigorous movement to privatise water, with a few global water corporations dominating control of water resources and services.
But Nuera said privatisation has led to reduced access for marginalised and impoverished communities and the violation of the human right to water.
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"We are fighting for the transformation of states and the establishment of democratic governments so that they become true instruments of people power. These are vital requirements towards sustainable and democratic management of water resources and services."
She called on governments worldwide to address water injustices and oppose policies that take advantage of water crises to justify and push for privatization and turning water into a commodity.
"We are demanding that the U.N. declaration on the right to water should be incorporated into national legislation," said Nuera.
The demand for electricity is also urgent. The LDC conference should affirm people’s right to energy that is adequate, reliable, affordable, safe, clean and sustainable, according to Nuera.
"We are calling for the restructuring of ownership of resources, of production, of consumption and towards the transformation of the global economic and financial system," she said. "This is in recognition that this is the only strategic solution to ensure that the power industry is managed well, is shared equitably and democratically."
Uma Chowdhury Director of Sushasoner Jonny Procharavizan, a local NGO for good governance in Bangladesh told IPS that electrification has significant positive impacts on households’ income expenditure and educational outcomes.
"The gain in total income due to electrification can be as much as 30 percent," Chowdhury said.
She worried that energy scarcity is one of the main reasons for poverty and accompanied environmental hazards in Bangladesh and other LDCs.
More than 8,000 people - representatives of governments, international agencies, development partners and civil society - are attending LDC-IV. They are expected to produce a plan to lessen the burden of poverty, hunger and disease on the world’s most vulnerable people by May 13.
The representatives for the women are hoping to see issues of water and energy access included in the Istanbul plan of action.