DECCAN HERALD Wednesday, March 22, 2000

NGOs warn against further commodification

Creeping 'hydro-mafia' poised to usurp Adam's ale

From R Akhileshwari
DH News Service
THE HAGUE, March 21

The NGOs and trade union groups participating in the second world conference being held here have rejected the report of the Water Commission and the vision document for the 21st century produced by the World Water Council, an international think tank set up to bring water on to the agenda of goverments and people movements.

These two reports are being discussed to prepare a road plan for ensuring access to safe drinking water and sanitation to all in the 21st century and conservation and protection of water resources.

PARALLEL MEET: The NGOs in a statement on Tuesday to the parallel ministerial conference being held here to secure the support of governments for its agenda expressed serious concerns about the process and contents of the framework of action.

''The process is dominated by technocratic and top-down thinking, resulting in documents which emphasise a corporate vision of privatisation, large scale investments and biotechnology as the key answers,`` said the NGOs.

''The process gives insufficient emphasis and recognition of the rights, knowledge and experience of local people and communities and the need to manage water in ways that protect natural ecosystems, the source of all water.

FLAWED PROCESS: ''The statement, however, supported the process of community-based participation spelled out in the vision 21 document but it said the mechanisms for integrating it into an overall process is flawed, it said.

The NGOs have called for transparency and accountability in the functioning of the World Water Council, and the Global Water Partnership forged by the council members.

Their work should be regularly reviewed by the United Nations, through the Commission for Sustainable Development, and by the stakeholders themselves.

The NGOs have demanded that a clean, healthy environment and access to basic water and sanitation being universal rights should not be negotiated as commodities.

UNFAIR DISPENSATION: They should therefore be removed from the General Agreement on Trade and Services and the agenda of the World Trade Organisation. Food and water insecurity are linked to the current unfair global trade system administered by the WTO rules, it said.

The NGOs demanded that access to information should be ensured and legal and institutional mechanisms put in place to facilitate participation of communities at all levels.

An agenda for restoring and rehabilitating the degraded ecosystems which are the major water sources, should be adopted since the key to sustainable provision of water is the protection and restoration of all ecosystems.

The other demands include substantial increase in expenditure for providing clean water and sanitation to the poor, put water and sanitation services under the control of the local community to ensure the benefit remains within the community and involvement of women in the process which should be an indicator of the success or failure of all future policies and action.

Author-activist Arundhati Roy in a scathing criticism of the conference said that the organisers were part of a ''global hydro-mafia`` who wanted to perpetuate and strengthen their control over funds and water resources.

The well known social reformer Anna Hazare who is attending the conference told DHNS in an interview that privatisation of water resources and management was dangerous.

''Water is life and with privatisation we would be handing over control over life to somebody else. The landless have as much right over water as the is nature's gift...if it is privatised how can poor get it?`` he asked.

Arundhati Roy said the concept of privatisation of water was a frightening thought. ''It is a chilly thought that the army, police and even nuclear weapons will be privatised,`` if such ideas get an upper hand, she said.

The Delhi-based environmental activist organisation, Centre for Science and Environment has said that privatisation was not the solution for water-related problems but ''communitisation`` in which the community will invest, care for and allocate its water resources.

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