Declaration of the Participants at the Alternative World Water Forum

by Robin Owings

The Alternative World Water Forum (FAME) has created and released a Declaration of The Participants at the Alternative World Water Forum. This document defines water to be a commons, not a commodity, and opposes the commodification of aspects of life through “green economy” solutions– which will further deplete and threaten global water resources. It calls upon governments, states, the UN General Assembly, public water utilities, local water authorities and citizens to act directly, whether through the creation of an international penal court for environmental crimes, through collaboration, or through reducing one’s daily water waste.  The document strongly supports the rights of workers/laborers, women, indigenous peoples, and small-scale agriculture, and validates the cultural, spiritual and symbolic aspects of water. FAME ultimately aims to bring the World Water Forum to an end, and supports equal rights among all stakeholders in international water politics. This document will be important to feed into the People’s Summit and the global day of action at Rio+20, as it states an alternative to the commodification and financialization of water which addresses the multiple social and ecological water crises of our time.

To read the document, follow this link:
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Dams are the answer; sorry, what was the question?

Ken Cline
If I hear the term “water- energy-food nexus” again I might scream. Yes they are related but the connections are not ecological ones; they are a mantra of convenience. More accurately, they are placed together as an excuse to maintain the status quo in terms of large dams. I listen to the head of the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID) talk about how they are concerned about food security in Africa and how we need more dams to stave off shortages. Then the International Commission of Large Dams (ICOLD) jumps in and talks about the need for more infrastructure (i.e. dams.) Adapting the slogans of water/social activists, the speaker intones “Water is life but without infrastructure it is not enough.” And then there are the lamentations about climate change. “We will need more storage (i.e. dams) in the face of climate change. Adaptation requires storage to make us resilient and dams are renewable power. There is no other way.”
So Africa is hungry because it is under-dammed, South America cannot reach its full development because it is under-dammed, and we are on the way to climate Armageddon because we are under-dammed. If you listen to the conversations in the hallways and some of the sessions at the World Water Forum you would soon realize that dams are the answer, regardless of the question.
But are they? Most dams, especially large ones really only reallocate resources. The benefits of a free flowing river and flood regime are transformed into kilowatts and benefit people who work in factories far away. In some sense the energy is renewable, but the people’s lives, customs, and culture are not. Nor is the complex ecosystem that is destroyed. There is potential in hydropower and irrigation to help us transition to a more sustainable economy, but large dams are not the way to do it. Large dams make members of ICOLD and ICID rich and powerful, meet the needs of short-sighted or corrupt politicians, and move resources from minorities and rural people into the cities, however, they do not meet the needs of the people who live in the valleys or in the land that has been “grabbed” away by outside investors. They are not green.
For the next World Water Forum I want an ICAD – an International Commission Against Dams.

Relaxation at the World Water Forum

by Janoah Bailin

Not all of the sessions at the WWF are riveting. Such as one of the more tedious presentations on Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM), an all-encompassing process for approaching water that stresses: planning from a watershed level as opposed to arbitrary political boundaries, a recognition of multiple values of and uses for water, and matching various water qualities to their most appropriate use (dare I say the Human Ecology of water management? Except somehow, in this case, exceedingly boring). I began to nod off. Deciding to save myself from the shame of snapping awake too suddenly, I snuck outside to repose on the steps and enjoy the last rays of warm Marseille SUNSHINE! before the next session. No sooner had I laid my head back on my bag when a guard walked over and told me to sit up: “on va se faire engueuler” he told me – you’re going to get told off. It was a nice enough way of giving me a completely ridiculous piece of information: “I’m sorry,” I asked, “I’m not allowed to rest?”

“You can rest. But you just can’t lay down,” he explained. “Only sit.” It was probably good at that point in the conversation that I had to leave because I fear I might have had much more to say on the matter. Although I assume that there are legitimate security reasons for not allowing participants to nap on the premises, the message I gleaned was slightly more cynical: this world of big business and governments and policy can’t stand to see someone who’s not doing something for a moment. Or were they scared that, tired of dry text and formalities, one person relaxing might suddenly prompt everyone else to follow suit?

This is an exclusive forum, accessible to those who can pay or have not proven their expertise (students were given a discounted rate only after NGOs and professionals lobbied for their inclusion). Not a space for those who care to lie in the sun, for those who are not completely convinced that the constant accumulation of responsibilities and knowledge is the only method of changing this world. Basking in the nature for which we fight (be it sunlight, water, or mountain) is essential to its salvation. Otherwise, conservation becomes just another job, another duty; the environment just another product.

An Additional Youth Statement on Water

An Additional Youth Statement on Water
March 16, 2012

Youth are the future decision makers of the world. We must be forward thinkers because we will inherit a planet shaped by the actions of today. We are innovative by nature, and we call upon those involved in water issues to listen to and engage with our perspective. We are youth, but we do not speak for all youth, and we issue this document within the Alternative Water Forum to expand upon the youth voice presented at the 6th World Water Forum (WWF). This additional vision demonstrates that there exist myriad perspectives. Given that the WWF text will be incorporated into the Rio¬+20 process, we are compelled to share our voices with the world.

Water is essential to all life, and as such cannot be allocated through market mechanisms. There is a human right to water and sanitation, as declared by the United Nations General Assembly . Water should not be classified as an economic good or used as a political tool, rather it is a public resource, a common good.

Water is simultaneously relevant on global, local, and regional levels with environmental, social, and political implications. Our management strategies need to reflect this complexity in several ways:

1. We need to engage all manner of communities and knowledge bases in management decisions. As humans, we have a right to education. This education can manifest in a variety of ways, including formal education and learning through living. This variety of experiences must be acknowledged and valued in the management of water.
2. We need to acknowledge the social and political aspects of water by cultivating a respect for water as a human right.
3. We need to acknowledge both the place-based and environmental aspects of water through basin-level, as opposed to nation-level, management.
4. Water is the foundation for life: the management decisions we make must accentuate this natural infrastructure rather than detract from it.

In these ways, we can ensure that decisions respect the rights of all peoples as well as the needs of the environment.

We propose recapturing the sense of the word “Forum” as a place to discuss, debate and act together. We maintain that these fundamental connotations are not fully represented in the structure of the WWF.

The WWF is closed – through its price and its structure. The cost of admission is prohibitive even for many immersed in the world of water, and certainly for those most adversely affected by mismanagement or scarcity. Youth now participate thanks to pressure for our inclusion; it seems appropriate, then, that we call for the inclusion of all those currently under-represented at the forum, including non-professionals, non-academics and impacted peoples.

The WWF, composed of panels, suits, hierarchy and speeches, has become a place to present rather than discuss. The private nature of the forum privileges certain voices to speak first and loudest, and thus controls the content and direction of discourse. We’ve heard the repeated desire of participants in the forum for a place to share — the sense that the solutions are there and can be discovered through communication. The existence of the Alternative Water Forum is proof of this discontent, although this venue still does not provide a non-partisan space for all.

An appropriate environment to discuss water must be more inclusive. Rather than undermine UN language, it must strengthen our commitment to the Human Right to water and sanitation. The forum would be transparent and open to all people and civil movements around the globe.

We call upon governments, organizations, communities, and individuals – all humans of the world…

…To respect the human right to water and sanitation as distinct from other human rights
…To recognize water as a common resource rather than an economic good, and not to use
it as a political tool.
…To engage in management based on water basins instead of political boundaries.
…To open the negotiation process to all stakeholders – corporate, public, and civic –
through compassionate and honest dialogue.

In order to find new solutions we must find new ways of discussing water.

[Earth] –
Janoah Bailin
Barbara Beblowski
Lisa Bjerke
Rachel Briggs
Robin Owings