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The Hindu on : Hecklers disrupt world water meet

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Saturday, March 18, 2000

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Hecklers disrupt world water meet

By Kalpana Sharma

THE HAGUE, MARCH 17. Streakers, a man hanging from a balcony and hecklers disrupted the formal opening of the World Water Forum today in the capital of the Netherlands. The opening speaker, Mr. Mahmoud Abu-Zeid, president, World Water Council, was not allowed to speak as a naked man and woman suddenly jumped on to the stage, stood in front of him and shouted `stop the Itoiz Dam, stop wasting money'.

If the organisers of the meet, which has brought together over 3,500 people from 158 countries, had hoped for orderly discussions on a range of issues revolving around water use and management, they had clearly underestimated the strength of sentiments on this issue in many parts of the world.

The protesters were from the Basque region of Spain where the controversial Itoiz Dam was constructed some years ago. The reservoir, which adversely affects a European-protected sanctuary, continues to be controversial because it violates European law. Protestors have been given long prison sentences by the Spanish Government. As a result, the anti-dam group has carried out several spectacular protests in the last few months, including hanging from the Millennium Wheel in London. Today, they continued in the same manner. The security guards had a particularly hard time dealing with the man hanging from the balcony with a red banner and another who had managed to climb on to a ledge on the wall.

The dramatic opening ceremony, which will be remembered more for the protests than the song and dance numbers that preceded them or the speeches, illustrates the underlying tensions that already mark this gathering of water experts, Government representatives, NGOs and others on the issue of the use and management of water resources.

While the doomsdayers, who included a group that has raised an alarm about the availability of water and the water gap, want to stress issues like water management, the non- governmental groups are more concerned about issues such as privatisation of water, and the systems of water management, like large dams, which have adverse impacts on people and the environment.

The International Rivers Network states in its critique of the document `World Water Vision', which backgrounds the discussions, that the real crisis is one of over-consumption, waste, pollution, watershed degradation, rampant dam-building, poorly- conceived and operated infrastructure projects, corruption and inequality.

The Itoiz Dam is not the only one that will feature in the discussions. Without deliberately planning to do so, the controversy on the Narmada Dam is just waiting to surface with the Gujarat Minister for Water, Mr. Jai Narain Vyas, scheduled to speak on water and energy and the Narmada Bachao Andolan leader, Ms. Medha Patkar, also speaking at a session on water and ethics. The writer, Ms. Arundhati Roy, has also arrived to draw attention to the situation on the dams on the Narmada.

Section  : International
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