As the World Water Forum gathers in Marseille, France, for its 6th meeting since 1997, water rights activists are criticizing the corporate-led, profit-motivated gathering as a move for global control of water.
Shayda Naficy, senior organizer of Corporate Accountability International's Challenge Corporate Control of our Water, slams the forum as a platform for corporations to push their privatization efforts:
The World Water Forum is another tool in the corporate move to shift policy debates to opaque, elite forums insulated from broad democratic participation, asserting market assumptions as a starting-point for water policy. Since its 1997 inception, the WWF has been a lightning-rod for international protest, as a prime example of corporate interference with water governance. Organized by the private trade association, the World Water Council, in conjunction with host governments, this year’s Forum will be held in France, the home of the two largest water corporations, Suez and Veolia. While the movement to reclaim public control of water has made major strides in France in recent years, most notably with the 2010 transition of the Paris water utility back to public control, the Forum location of Marseille remains a stronghold for the private water industry, and the home turf of the World Water Council.
Maude Barlow, chairperson of the Council of Canadians and Food & Water Watch, criticizes the core mission of the forum:
“Water and sanitation have been recognized as human rights. The challenge now is to have governments implement these rights as quickly as possible now. It’s a poor starting point for the World Water Forum to fail to recognize these fundamental rights.”
Portuguese member of Parliament: “Whoever controls water controls a great source of power and of course a great source of profit.”
At the last forum in Istanbul in 2009, police battled protestors opposing private management of water utilities. The issue resonates this year in austerity-driven European countries – including Greece, Portugal and Spain – where authorities have mapped out plans to sell state assets and utilities to address budget and debt woes.
“Whoever controls water controls a great source of power and of course a great source of profit,” João Ferreira, a Portuguese member of Parliament from the European United Left group, said Tuesday at a Brussels meeting called by FAME organisers.
“This resource cannot be managed privately … and untamed privatisation will lead to a disaster,” Ferreira said.
To provide an alternative conference emphasizing water as a human right, activists have created the Alternative World Water Forum. This group states that:
The next World Water Forum presents itself as a "Forum for solutions" as usual. These solutions are about making water more expensive and about having more paying customers. The issues should be about guaranteeing access to water and sanitation services.
In its focus on access to water and sanitation services, the Alternative Water Forum explains:
The objective of the Alternative World Water Forum (AWWF) – in French, the Forum Alternatif Mondial de l’Eau (FAME) – is to create a concrete alternative to the sixth World Water Forum (WWF) which is organized by the World Water Council. This Council is a mouthpiece for transnational companies and the World Bank and they falsely claim to head the global governance of water.
For several years, different civil society movements have fought side by side for water conservation and citizen management of water. Activists have created platforms, propositions and campaigns at events such as the 2003 Alternative Forum in Florence, the 2005 Alternative Forum in Geneva, the 2006 Alternative Forum in Mexico or the 2009 Alternative Forum in Istanbul and within international Social Forums such as those in Porto Alegre, Caracas, Nairobi, and Belem. These gatherings helped solidify the movement to reappropriate water, a communal resource which belongs to all of humanity.