Waters Rights

30 Mar 2009

Debate has continued since the closing of the week-long World Water Forum in Istanbul on Sunday March 22, with twenty countries abstaining from signing the Ministerial Declaration which defines water as a human need rather than as a human right.

The Latin American states were key advocates of a counter-declaration that recognizes access to water and sanitation as a human right and commits to all necessary action for the progressive implementation of this right. Countries who signed were: Bangladesh, Benin, Bolivia, Chad, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Honduras, Morocco, Namibia, Niger, Panama, Paraguay, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Uruguay and Venezuela.

‘The United States does not oppose any government adopting a national right to water or sanitation as part of its own domestic policy,’ said US State Department spokesman Andy Laine. ‘We do, however, have concerns with a statement that would require all countries to adopt a national right to water or sanitation or would establish an international right to water or sanitation.’

Nongovernmental organizations and the United Nations have mounted a campaign to lobby governments to recognize water as a human right. In the US, the NGO Food and Water Watch asked its members to send emails to their Congressional representatives urging them to support this protest.

The UN president also questioned the legitimacy of the forum itself, stating in his speech: ‘the forum’s orientation is profoundly influenced by private water companies. This is evident by the fact that both the president of the World Water Council and the alternate president are deeply involved with provision of private, for-profit, water services.’

The use of water in agriculture was highlighted during the forum, and a “water footprinting” tool – developed by Arjen Hoekstra to measures the volume of fresh water used to make a product – was presented, with some frightening figures: beef (15,500 liters per kilogram on average across global production), sheep (6,100 liters), wheat (1,300 liters), milk (1,000 liters per liter), rice (3,400 liters).

By 2030, the number of people living under severe water stress is expected to rise to 3.9 billion, a figure that does not include the impacts of global warming, according to the OECD. Feeding the world’s growing population – and growing crops for biofuels – will spur even greater demands from agriculture, which already takes up 70 percent of available freshwater.

The World Water Forum is held every three years – the next meeting is scheduled for 2012.

Environmental News Service
The Age

Bess Mucke
[email protected]

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