An Additional Youth Statement on Water

An Additional Youth Statement on Water
March 16, 2012

Youth are the future decision makers of the world. We must be forward thinkers because we will inherit a planet shaped by the actions of today. We are innovative by nature, and we call upon those involved in water issues to listen to and engage with our perspective. We are youth, but we do not speak for all youth, and we issue this document within the Alternative Water Forum to expand upon the youth voice presented at the 6th World Water Forum (WWF). This additional vision demonstrates that there exist myriad perspectives. Given that the WWF text will be incorporated into the Rio¬+20 process, we are compelled to share our voices with the world.

Water is essential to all life, and as such cannot be allocated through market mechanisms. There is a human right to water and sanitation, as declared by the United Nations General Assembly . Water should not be classified as an economic good or used as a political tool, rather it is a public resource, a common good.

Water is simultaneously relevant on global, local, and regional levels with environmental, social, and political implications. Our management strategies need to reflect this complexity in several ways:

1. We need to engage all manner of communities and knowledge bases in management decisions. As humans, we have a right to education. This education can manifest in a variety of ways, including formal education and learning through living. This variety of experiences must be acknowledged and valued in the management of water.
2. We need to acknowledge the social and political aspects of water by cultivating a respect for water as a human right.
3. We need to acknowledge both the place-based and environmental aspects of water through basin-level, as opposed to nation-level, management.
4. Water is the foundation for life: the management decisions we make must accentuate this natural infrastructure rather than detract from it.

In these ways, we can ensure that decisions respect the rights of all peoples as well as the needs of the environment.

We propose recapturing the sense of the word “Forum” as a place to discuss, debate and act together. We maintain that these fundamental connotations are not fully represented in the structure of the WWF.

The WWF is closed – through its price and its structure. The cost of admission is prohibitive even for many immersed in the world of water, and certainly for those most adversely affected by mismanagement or scarcity. Youth now participate thanks to pressure for our inclusion; it seems appropriate, then, that we call for the inclusion of all those currently under-represented at the forum, including non-professionals, non-academics and impacted peoples.

The WWF, composed of panels, suits, hierarchy and speeches, has become a place to present rather than discuss. The private nature of the forum privileges certain voices to speak first and loudest, and thus controls the content and direction of discourse. We’ve heard the repeated desire of participants in the forum for a place to share — the sense that the solutions are there and can be discovered through communication. The existence of the Alternative Water Forum is proof of this discontent, although this venue still does not provide a non-partisan space for all.

An appropriate environment to discuss water must be more inclusive. Rather than undermine UN language, it must strengthen our commitment to the Human Right to water and sanitation. The forum would be transparent and open to all people and civil movements around the globe.

We call upon governments, organizations, communities, and individuals – all humans of the world…

…To respect the human right to water and sanitation as distinct from other human rights
…To recognize water as a common resource rather than an economic good, and not to use
it as a political tool.
…To engage in management based on water basins instead of political boundaries.
…To open the negotiation process to all stakeholders – corporate, public, and civic –
through compassionate and honest dialogue.

In order to find new solutions we must find new ways of discussing water.

[Earth] –
Janoah Bailin
Barbara Beblowski
Lisa Bjerke
Rachel Briggs
Robin Owings

Mid-week Stress Relief

After a long Tuesday sitting in very tense debate sessions regarding private sector partnerships, Wednesday was the opposite. Our hostel knows a local guide who takes tourists into the nearby mountains to hike and talk about the local ecology of the area, and luckily Lisa found out about him and got him to give us a tour. The area is in the last stages of becoming Calanques National Park, and will be the only rural/urban national park in France.
The Calanques rise from the sea in spectacular limestone peaks, giving Marseille a unique skyline. Nabilus met us at the entrance of the park, and we began our ascent through a small village. I think our eagerness to be outside was a bit of an early morning shock for him and he told us that we needed to take it slow, as it was the morning. Slowly we wound our way up the former seabed peaks, pausing to admire the beautiful plants and learn from Nabilus what was edible. As we continued to rise above the city, the view became more and more spectacular, and with each step the tension from the past three days began to leave.
As the sun rose higher, lunch became our focus. When I thought we had reached a peak, we took a sharp left, seemingly off the side of the mountain, and around the corner was the ruins of a German occupied base from World War II.
We had packed a lunch of fresh bread, cheese, nuts and fruit, which was enough to satisfy our every whim, but Nabilus had brought us food that was beyond description. With the herbs found in the park (white thyme, two types of rosemary and others) he had created a magical olive oil. He provided dried baguette rubbed with fresh purple garlic; we poured the oil over and with oily hands ate the little bruschettas. When we thought we were in food heaven, he pulled out a small wheel of Camembert cheese and sliced it into large triangles. Then, much to our shock he liberally poured his olive oil over the cheese. To skeptics of this endeavor, I can safely tell you that any thought of my arteries disappeared, and at once I was encompassed in one of the most delicious culinary delights I have ever experienced. We contentedly munched on our lunch, and Nabilus answered our questions about the city, ecology, and how he came to love the area. It became clear that his passion is these mountains and educating tourists and citizens alike in the marvel that lies within the city. We zigged and zagged our way down and across the mountain stopping to examine an old venting system from an old ascorbic acid factory. At the bottom we parted ways with Nabilus and wandered down to the ocean to dip our toes into the Mediterranean. After a long day hiking the cold (yes, cold!), refreshing water was exactly what we needed to continue back to the Water Forum and hear from the Youth Movement.

Outlining the Panels

– Robin Owings

As I sit in long meetings on water privatization, scarcity, and ethics, I have taken to documenting panelists (government officials, NGO heads, citizen leaders) with blind contour drawings. I look directly at the subjects and record them using a continuous line. Each line forms a caricature, reflecting the elements of those figures such as slouching shoulders, facial expressions, and hand gestures which I perceive (often on a subconscious level) to be important. I am sharing these sketches with Earth in Brackets to describe the dynamics and experience of these panels through a different format, because they often illustrate more about the individuals than I could say through writing.

 Panel 1. Integrated Water Resource Management For All: Make Water Resource Planning a Reality by adopting IWRM (Master) Plan

 Panel 2. Water Debate: Private/Public Involvement in the Provision of Water and Sanitation Services

Panel 3: detail of Maria Theresa at the Alternative World Water Forum preparatory meeting

Panel 4. High Level Panel on Water and Food Security







So what is a Water Forum anyway?

Those familiar with the UN Climate Treaty (UNFCCC) or the Convention on Biological Diversity covered by [Earth] might be confused by the World Water Forum.  They should be.  It is a very different animal but an important one none-the less.  Unlike the UNFCCC or other international treaty regimes, there is no treaty; there is no single agency or Secretariat, in fact the UN plays a very small role if any; and World Water Forum has no power to make binding legal agreements.  So what is it, where did it come from and why bother  attending?  We will try to answer those questions.

Fresh water is different than many international environmental problems in that it is a global issue that mostly manifests itself locally.  Except for shared river basins (of which there are several hundred)  freshwater is not technically an inter-national issue.  However, since the  1972 Stockholm  Conference and before, water has been a central part of the international environmental dialogue.  It is just not quite clear where it fits.  The UN ventured into the field in 1977 with the UN Conference on Water in Mar del  Plata.  A political declaration that was pretty deferential to traditional notions of sovereignty and a UN General Assembly resolution making the 1980’s the Decade of International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation was about all that we got.  Once it declared the decade, the UN apparently figured that the problem was solved and it moved on to other issues.  Safe drinking water – issue declaration, check.  Done.   One of water’s challenges is that is affects everything, as a result there has never been a single UN agency that focuses on water.  UNEP is interested, as is the WHO, as is UNDP, UNESCO, and the FAO.  I count about 20 UN agencies that could claim a mandate over water.  In a bland understatement one commentator observed that “water has always been a highly fragmented international domain.”  No kidding.

In some ways the vacuum created by the lack of a treaty mechanism and the UN’s attention deficit disorder gave space for others to work on the issue.  In the lead up to the Rio Earth Summit, national water authorities, UN agencies, NGO’s, and industry experts tackled aspects of the global water issue on their own.  This trend continued after Rio and the way that water has been addressed internationally was fundamentally different than the traditional treaty-centered approach of most other environmental issues.   The normative power was not the international treaty between sovereign states but the knowledge-centered power of the water expert’s network.  These water experts have done the heavy lifting in terms of creating an international water regime.  But like most privatization proposals, the results are mixed.

Fast forward to 1997, The World Water Council organizes the 1st World Water Forum in Marrakech. (How could anyone have attended this without the song from Crosby, Stills and Nash continuously playing in their heads?  Really.)   This set the stage for similar gatherings every three years since.   But who is the World Water Council anyway?  Are they a UN agency, a disinterested NGO?  No.  The WWC is a private entity originally incorporated by the Egyptian Water Ministry, Canada’s aid agency, and Suez-Lyonaisse des Eux (a major private multinational water service provider.)  This in many ways captures the nature of the beast – it is very much a collection of water elites.  From water ministries, aid agencies, water NGO’s , UN agencies, private sector water development firms, international industry trade associations, and water-related research institutes, it is a collection of water professionals (who are successful enough to pay their high dues.)  So, is the WWC and the World Water Forum a corporate ploy that should be fought and challenged at every turn – it depends.

Intentional or not, the World Water Forum has created an international space within which the contested vision of global water is debated.  Since the beginning, NGO-based water activists have fought to ensure that the non-economic values of water are represented in the conversations.  They resisted any effort to characterize water as merely an economic good and have adamantly insisted that water is a human right.  Whether through protests at the forum, the presentation of alternative views at side events, or the strong counterviews of the parallel-running Alternative Water Forums, NGO’s and some state ministries have kept the dialog alive.   It is a place, and a significant one, to keep the world focused on the fact that the UN Decade of International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation did not solve the problems and that the privatization prescription of the water multinationals will not solve them either.  Although not legally binding, the ministerial statements issued at the conferences, further create an international water regime and build a kind of “soft law” in the water arena.  (Making that process more open and responsive to public input will be the subject of a future blog.)

So we are headed to Marseilles for the latest of these triennial  water forums because water is important, because the discussion about freshwater is important, because we want to influence the way that discussion occurs, and because water affects too many important human and ecological values to allow its fate to rest in the hands of water technocrats.  Human ecology needs to be part of that discussion.