Last month (17-22 March 2018) a delegation of around 20 members of the European Water Movement, participated in the Alternative World Water Forum (FAMA, Foro Alternativo Mundial da Agua) in Brasilia: the concrete alternative to the World Water Forum, organized by the World Water Council, which represents the voice of transnational corporations and the World Bank. Social movements, unions, local communities, feminist groups and indigenous peoples gathered to fight against the attempts being made by corporations to transform water as a commodity and promote financialization of water bodies and ecosystems, privatizing resources and commodifying a human right.
FAMA was a warm and hopeful event, gathering around 7000 activists from different places and facilitating exchange about challenges, experiences and solutions. One again the importance of deepening and strengthening positions and connections between social movements, unions, indigenous people and local communities was confirmed. Another crucial aspect of the forum was the focus on women’s struggles against privatization of nature and patriarchy.
Meanwhile, the corporations and the States gathered at the “corporate forum” affirmed that they were seeking action on water, as stated in the Ministerial Declaration. However, their actions definitely did not go in the direction of a sincere promotion of the recognition and implementation of the human right to water. Deforestation, agribusiness, and hydroelectrically project are not even mentioned in the Ministerial Declaration, but the impact of agro-industry and water-grabbing are a fundamental concern for indigenous people, small-scale farmers and grass-roots movements. Indeed, the consequences of agri-business, as largely discussed during the FAMA, are catastrophic: polluted rivers, declining aquifer levels, disappearance of springs, threat to the water regime, droughts linked to deforestation. Family farming and fishing are questioned, forced evictions take place, land is monopolized, biotopes are endangered. All this for the profit of large banks or pension funds in the Netherlands, Sweden or Germany whose beneficiaries are unaware that their pension causes the violation of the human rights of indigenous peoples and the destruction of the environment.
Those gathered at the corporate forum insisted on the need “to respect the right of every human being, irrespective of their situation and location, to safe drinking water and sanitation as fundamental human rights”, but they aim to do so through an impossible cooperation between private sector and those affected by privatization. Such cooperation can never exist! Indeed, the Ministerial Declaration barely mentions the recognition of the human right to water as per in the UN Resolution 64/292. Not strangely, indeed, considering that such a right is not yet enjoyed anywhere in the world and access to water is still subordinated to the logic of transforming a human right into a matter of economic accessibility, grounded on the role of private sector in allegedly ensuring such a right. Of course, the word privatization is not even mentioned by the Ministerial Declaration, while all gathered at FAMA repeatedly and clearly re-affirmed that this is a crucial problem affecting people all over the world.
In denouncing the privatization and financialization of nature strategy of corporations and multilateral financial institutions the final declaration of the FAMA described the impact of these policies on nature (and more broadly on social inequalities) and their responsibilities with regard to criminalization, threats and killings of environmental rights defenders.
The FAMA denounced violations of the human rights to water, but also promoted effective alternatives, from small-scale agro-ecology to public-public and public-community partnerships. The EWM contributed to the broad debate bringing European struggles, and describing how the negative impact of water commodification and privatization is a shared concern.
As EWM we are inspired by the struggle of water movement in Latin America and Brazil in particular, and we come back home convinced that reinforcing cooperation is crucial to combat privatization and achieve water justice. Our struggles are intertwined. Not only because we all know that most of the biggest corporations responsible for privatization and water-grabbing have their headquarters in Europe, but also due to the crucial importance that water resources, for example the aquifer Guarani, have at a global level.
We fight the same enemy, which implements similar policies with different “faces” both in the Global North and in the Global South. Hence, we have to conduct these struggles both at a local level, in our own communities, and in a global perspective. Water privatization and water grabbing policies are consistent components of neoliberal capitalism, based on exploitation of nature, peoples and bodies (and those of women even more!). We need to respond together, building alliances and strategies.
As reaffirmed at FAMA, water is a commons, and guarantees the life of peoples and ecosystems. It must be protected from exploitation and grabbing, and ensured as human right in laws and practices (including through policies of non-discrimination, transparency, solidarity and sustainability).
The spiritual sanctity of water in its different forms is also recognized, and the importance of traditional wisdom and practices is equally to be defended as part of this struggle, embedded in the life of territories and peoples. As EWM we join the fight of all of those that denounce neo-liberal policies, and we denounce complicity between political and economic elites acting in favor of commodification and privatization of water. Citizens, communities and peoples’ participation is a crucial component for a democratic management of water resources. It relies on equality and cooperation, but also on access to information and tools of participation. Governments should support a truly democratic and public management of water, and should act in respect of international human rights provisions ensuring the enjoyment of the human right to water, protecting peoples (in particular indigenous communities) from commercial pressure and grabbing, and respecting workers’ rights, if they are sincere in their effort to seek action on water. Commodification of water is a part of predatory neoliberal strategy, it is unfair and unsustainable, and it is also illegal.
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