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Two water conferences with competing visions

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Euractiv reports, “Competing international conferences (are) taking place in Marseille next week… The Alternative World Water Forum – known by its French acronym FAME, or Forum Alternatif Mondial de l’Eau – says it offers a ‘democratic’ choice to the other Marseille gathering they say represents an élite that ignores the need for affordable water. …(While) the World Water Forum – a signature event that attracts thousands of industry, government and international representatives – sees little conflict between the two groups. …(But) Pablo Sanchez of the European Federation of Public Service Unions (disagrees and) said the forum remains a largely closed event that will not address one of FAME’s main aims – to keep water systems in public hands. …Sanchez said he would prefer to see the conference held under the auspices of the United Nations.”

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow will be a keynote speaker on the opening panel for FAME. And while several governments have invited Barlow to speak at a gathering of ministers inside the World Water Forum, forum organizers disinvited her without informing those governments. More on this soon.

Austerity, privatization and water
“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… ‘This resource cannot be managed privately…and untamed privatisation will lead to a disaster,’ Ferreira said.” Very much related to this, later this week in Marseille the Blue Planet Project and Public Services International Research Unit will be releasing a new report titled, ‘Right to Water for All: Case Studies on Austerity and Privatization in Europe‘ that includes case studies from Spain, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Bulgaria.

“(And) FAME organisers want to add weight to their cause – which includes pressing the European Union to halt the liberalisation of water works – with a European Citizens Initiative on water and sanitation rights.” Earlier this week, a forum on the European Citizens’ Initiative — which is a means by which one million European Union citizens (who are nationals of at least one quarter of the member states) can call directly on the European Commission to propose a legal act in an area where the Member States have conferred powers onto the EU level — took place at the European Parliament in Brussels. As noted on their website, “Our goal is to implement the human right to water and sanitation. Our aim is to collect one million signatures from all over Europe to make this happen. What we ask to the European Commission is to exclude water and sanitation from internal market rules and to oblige Member States to ensure the universal enjoyment of the right to water and sanitation.” At this forum in Brussels, the draft version of ‘Right to Water for All: Case Studies on Austerity and Privatization in Europe‘ was provided to those in attendance.

Challenging the World Water Forum
The Euractiv article notes, “The World Water Forum is expected to draw 20,000 participants to an event costing as much as €700 for full access. The attendance list includes representatives of the water industry, government ministers, international representatives and civic organisations.” But that attendance figure may be spin, and it is believed that the World Water Forum is in deep trouble and that its attendance will be lower than in past years. While he has promoted the World Water Forum, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced last week that he would not make the short trip from Paris to Marseille. As such, this is reportedly the first time that a head of state has not opened the World Water Forum.

Today, the Council of Canadians attended more of the France Libertes ‘People, Planet & Water’ conference; met with Wenonah Hauter, executive director of the US-based Food & Water Watch; discussed with a Brazilian ally the role the right to water will play at the Rio+20 summit; attended various planning meetings; and did a site visit to the location of Monday’s government-civil society meeting, just up the street from the World Water Forum. At present, we’ve had expressions of interest in this meeting from Brazil, South Africa, Egypt, Uruguay, Ghana, Namibia, Bolivia, Ecuador, as well as UN Water, the European Commission, and the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights. Two municipal representatives, one from Zanzibar City, Zanzibar (a semi-autonomous area in Tanzania) and Anne Le Strat, the deputy mayor of Paris, are also expected to attend.

For the latest campaign blogs from Marseille, please go to http://canadians.org/blog/?s=%22world+water+forum%22.

Brent Patterson, Political Director, The Council of Canadians

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