I ran across this article today and thought you all might enjoy it! It’s from the Inter Press Service News Agency.

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COLOMBIA: Campaign Seeks to Make Water a Constitutional Right
By Helda Martínez

BOGOTA,
Aug 24 (IPS) – Sixty environmental, indigenous, labour and social
organisations in Colombia are carrying out a campaign for a
constitutional amendment that would make access to clean water a
fundamental right.

The proponents of the initiative have
already fulfilled the first legal requirement by collecting some
135,000 signatures, equivalent to five out of every 1,000 registered
voters.

But they now face a bigger challenge.

Once the signatures are certified as valid by the Registraduría
Nacional del Estado Civil (national registry), the organisations will
have to gain the support of 1.5 million Colombians in order for
Congress to call a referendum in which voters would decide in favour of
or against the proposed constitutional amendment.

The initiative included an awareness-raising caravan along the
Magdalena river, which ended Friday when it reached the port of
Girardot, 133 km southwest of the capital.

In this country of 42 million, nearly 12 million people have
no access to clean water and four million have limited access, i.e. to
a public faucet, according to the Defensoría del Pueblo (ombudsman’s
office).

Ironically, Colombia is the second country in Latin America in
terms of average annual renewable freshwater resources, and seventh in
the world, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture
Organisation (FAO).

But despite the abundance, the governmental Institute of
Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM) predicts that
69 percent of the Colombian population will suffer from a lack of clean
water in 2025.

The non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and trade unions
promoting the constitutional amendment point to the privatisation of
water utilities, which was authorised by law in 1993, as one of the
causes of the problem.

"Of the country’s 349 water companies, 141 are private and 24
are mixed," reports the CENSAT Agua Viva/Friends of the Earth Colombia.

One of the NGO’s researchers, Danilo Urrea, told IPS that
"privatisation has significantly driven up the cost of water services,
and the granting of concessions to private operators has also given
rise to scandals and corruption."

In addition, there has been an attempt to charge a toll for
navigating the Magdalena river along the stretch where it flows into
the Barranquilla port on the Caribbean coast.

The Magdalena river emerges in southwestern Colombia and runs
through 18 of the country’s 22 departments (provinces) for over 1,500
kilometres before reaching the Caribbean.

In the 1970s, 70,000 tons of fish were caught in the river
annually, an amount that shrunk to 40,000 in the 1980s, 20,000 in the
1990s and just 8,000 today.

That problem is also on the agenda of the groups carrying out
the campaign. "You can’t just put an end to public utilities arguing
that the state is corrupt. What must be achieved is management of water
for the benefit of the population as a whole," said Urrea.

The petition drive to collect signatures in favour of the
constitutional amendment was launched on May 1, International Workers’
Day, in several cities around Colombia.

Various actions were carried out in the following two months,
mainly organised by young people. This month, during the first forum
for water and life in the Caribbean, held in the city of Barranquilla,
the caravan set out on the Magdalena river, reaching Girardot on
Friday.

One of the country’s most heavily polluted rivers, the Bogotá
river, flows into the Magdalena at the port of Girardot. The Bogotá is
a dumping ground for chemical residues from the cut-flower industry and
tanneries.

This first stage of the campaign is coming to a close with "a
positive evaluation," said Urrea. "Even if we are not successful in our
attempt to hold a referendum, we have carried out awareness-raising
efforts in cities and towns along the river, which was part of our
overall objective. And of course we will continue working."

Minister of the environment, development and housing Juan
Lozano recently stated in a televised debate that he will put a
priority on recuperating the country’s water resources, and that
maintaining a public water service and preserving the environment were
aims that he shared.

If a referendum is held and voters come out in favour of a constitutional amendment, Colombia will be following Uruguay’s lead.

In late 2004, that small South American country became the
first nation in the world to introduce a constitutional amendment
declaring water resources a public good and prohibiting the
privatisation of water and sewage services. (END/2007)

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