By Bobby Ramakant*.
Istanbul, Turkey - As the 5th World Water Forum (WWF) begins in Istanbul, activists, social movements and non-governmental organizations from Turkey and around the world are holding counter events and actions that directly challenge the legitimacy of the Forum itself.
As part of these actions, a group of 118 organizations from 33 countries has signed and issued a letter to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon that calls on him to withdraw his support for the CEO Water Mandate, a corporate driven water initiative under the UN Global Compact that facilitates corporate control of water resources. Representatives of the letter's signatories will deliver a copy of the letter to and share their concerns with the participants of a CEO Water Mandate meeting in Istanbul at the World Water Forum on the evening of March 16th, 2009, at 6 p.m. in Hasköy Hall, in the VIP Block, on the 1st Floor of the Sütlüce Congress and Cultural Center.
"Those who are dealing with corporate control of water's manifold downsides – water takings, water shut-offs, price hikes, short cuts on water treatment – are people deeply affected by the water crisis and corporations' actions," said Mark Hays, organizer for Corporate Accountability International. "Yet these same people, who are going thirsty, don't have a true voice at these meetings – their voices need to be heard, and they should be in the drivers' seat."
The letter was delivered to the Secretary General last Thursday, and outlines the group's concerns about the transparency and legitimacy of the CEO Water Mandate.
Water justice activists are calling on the United Nations to take the lead in creating transparent, democratic space to decide international water policy. But to date, the UN continues to be in a contradictory position by, on the one hand, raising awareness about the world water crisis and calling for needed change, and on the other housing the CEO Water Mandate. Groups like the Polaris Institute and Corporate Accountability International are challenging the CEO Mandate because it allows corporations to undermine democratic control of water under the aegis of the United Nations.
The Mandate's leading endorsers currently include water bottlers Coca-Cola, Nestlé, and Pepsi, as well as Suez, one of the world's largest privatizers of water services and systems."All of these corporations have a vested interest in controlling water resources and profiting from water scarcity, so there is a great danger in leaving international water policy in such hands," said Richard Girard, researcher for the Polaris Institute."
While the corporate endorsers of the Mandate will be discussing this week how corporations can 'be part of the solution' to the water crisis by exerting more influence over global water policy, people around the world are saying loud and clear that corporations that profit from people's access to water should not be in driver's seat when it comes to decisions about who gets water and who doesn't," said Bobby Ramakant, letter signatory and spokesperson for the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) of UP, India.
* The author is a senior development journalist, World Health Organization (WHO)'s WNTD Awardee (2008), and has been writing on health and development issues since 1991. He can be contacted at: bobbyramakant[at]yahoo.com.
Source: American Chronicle (15/3/2009) / © Photo by McKay Savage.