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It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I love water.  My master’s thesis is centering around women and water, and I could talk about the benefits of keeping water public for days.  For these reason, I am truly excited about the fact that the right to water and sanitation is being considered by the UN as an addition to the Declaration of Human Rights.

Water is necessary for life — not only for the physical necessity of keeping hydrated, but also for the the daily tasks like cooking, cleaning, and sanitation.   Access to clean water and sanitation can prevent fatal diseases that have plagued the developing world for years and survive only in memory in the developed world.

In the recent decades, water has been increasingly privatized, making it difficult for those not in power to have access to clean water.  In South Africa, the private companies charge way about the income level of the poor; in other countries the water systems are not maintained, leaving broken pipes and pumps that don’t work.  These situations force the people to go back to drinking the dirty water that causes diseases like dysentery or cholera.  Even in the US, our water systems are in danger of being privatized by corporations looking to make a profit (or take the bottled water industry…selling our water back to us in little plastic bottles).

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One of the speakers present at yesterday’s Global/Local Exchange, Priva Ha’angandu, traveled from Zambia to represent the impact of G20 policies on poor countries.

While Priva advocated debt forgiveness to those he spoke with, he also warned that countries like Zambia, which are benefiting from the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative, are forced to adhere to certain conditionalities, such as privatization of public works and financial deregulation, which disadvantage have radically disrupted the country’s ability to pay for important human services like education and healthcare.

Many among the G20 dissenters worry that this week’s talks will result in a resurgence of the IMF, which was practically defunct until recently due to demand for reform. I, and many others, ask the simple question: how can the answer to a debt crisis be more debt?

On a separate note, check out the comment that was posted in response to Priva’s video:

“We already have a forum for the globally irrelevant, collectively indigent national regimes of the world, it’s called the UN, and it’s a supranational joke, just like the G20 would be if we let every country in to blabber about whatever struck their fancy. To exemplify the problem with this video’s logic on an individual level: If you were a successful professional meeting 19 of your other societally upstanding friends, would you want your meeting to be interrupted by degenerate vagrants?”

It is this kind of ignorance and misguided hatred that cannot be tolerated in global politics, nor the American psyche, if we aim to resolve any of the world’s problems.  I mean, did he just call Priva–a highly educated young man, working with international networks for responsible lending and finance–a degenerate vagrant?

Thank you Priva, for joining the People’s Voices events, for sharing the experience of Zambia, and for being part of the solution.

Check out more at: http://www.g20media.org/node/123

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)

Picture queuing for your daily ration of water, only to discover that water meter prices have doubled from last month.  Imagine private water enforcers blocking your family’s access to water and disease ravaging local communities when people are forced to use nearby streams for drinking and bathing. As private companies jockey for global control of water, these scenarios have already become a reality in India, Latin America, and Africa. And, with nearly two thirds of the world’s population expected to be ‘water-poor’ by 2025, it’s an issue that must be pushed to the forefront of global dialogue. While proponents tout the accomplishments of select privatization projects, ultimately the prescription for water privatization just doesn’t add up.

Water is indispensable to human survival; it quenches thirst, nurtures food, and makes possible sanitation and good health. It cannot be transformed into a commodity because its importance is beyond calculation. Water is a human entitlement, and has been recognized as such in numerous international treaties, most notably the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees all people the right to a ‘standard of living adequate for their health and well-being.’

Furthermore, corporations have hardly proven to be ethical stewards of humanity. In pursuit of profit, corporate conglomerates have subjected laborers to inhumane work conditions, polluted the environment in which they live, and reduced the quality and safety of consumer products. Corporations have no conscience; they cannot act with the best interests of society in mind. What consequences might our global population face if corporations were to control the very essence of human life?

Since there is no existing alternative, it is important to recognize that water embodies the ultimate economic monopoly. Given the lack of regulation governing private water providers and the rising demand for water supply worldwide, corporations have the potential to reap unlimited financial benefits. If water were to become a commodity, humans would be transformed into customers in an innately unbalanced economic system. Finally, there remains the significant issue of public security. Water privatization presents a twofold security dilemma: lack of regulation places public health at risk and inadequate water delivery fosters an environment ripe for civil unrest. In many nations that suffer water scarcity, citizens have begun stealing water from each other to survive. Whether they wish it or not, the ultimate responsibility for water distribution will fall on the government.

It’s ironic that the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have backed privatization as a condition of many international loans. Perhaps such rulings were based on the perceived inefficiency of public water operators. Yet water privatization projects in the United States, Bolivia, and South Africa have achieved only mediocre results and engendered massive protests and legal battles. Many companies have already abandoned the developing world due to high political and financial risk. ‘Successful’ projects, on the other hand, have often exacerbated the inequality of current water systems, largely neglecting rural communities or inflating water prices too high for people to afford.

Given the very public consequences of water distribution, the matter seems best left to the supervision of national governments. Rather than signing over water rights to private corporations, global citizens can work to modernize public water systems by supporting international exchange programs for civil planners and contributing financially to water pipeline reconstruction efforts. As Americans, we can resist buying bottled water, be mindful of our water consumption, and urge Congress to implement legislation that will prevent private companies from gaining ownership of water.  In the end, water privatization cannot happen without the political and financial support of the global community.

Lindsay Ramirez

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