People's Water Forum Urges World Water Parliament

By Vanya Walker-Leigh

FLORENCE, Italy, March 24, 2003 (ENS) - The Iraq conflict is partly about future control of Iraq's huge water resources, an Italian Catholic missionary told an alternative world water forum in Florence, endorsing the meeting's closing call for a new world water deal based on public sector control and a legal right to water for all by 2020.

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The Tigris and Euphrates rivers flow through Iraq to the Gulf. (Map courtesy CIA)
Fr. Alex Zanoletti's angry attacks on U.S. "imperialism," its huge arms buildup, and its leadership role in what he saw as a global "war on the world's poor," drew strong applause from 1,400 mainly European civil society activists attending the First People's World Water Forum here on Friday and Saturday.

Convened as a followup to January's Porto Alegre World Social Forum and an alternative response to last week's Third World Water Forum in Japan, the conference began and ended with recordings from Iraq war newscasts of sirens and falling bombs. Its final session was shortened to enable participants to join the large anti-war march in Florence on Saturday afternoon.

Lead organizers were the Italian nongovernmental organization CIPSI, which is a network for international solidarity groups, the World Coalition against Water Privatization, and the Committee for a World Water Contract, chaired by former Portuguese President Mario Soares.

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Riccardo Petrella (Photo courtesy Emille Gamelin)
Most of the forum's proceedings were in fact dominated by Riccardo Petrella, the Contract Committee's Italian initiator and secretary. A university lecturer and former senior European Commission official who is still an advisor, Petrella has become one of the father figures of Europe's burgeoning anti-globalization movement.

The First People's World Water Forum was co-sponsored by several hundred pacifist, environmental and anti-poverty nongovernmental organizations, including Greenpeace, and WWF, the conservation organization.

The alternative water agenda contained in the Forum's final declaration mirrored many points of the civil society declaration issued Saturday in Kyoto.

Water for all by 2020 as a legally enforceable human right could be achieved, the declaration claims, if global water resources were managed as a "common good" by a World Water Parliament, anchored to democratic water management bodies at regional, national and local levels.

This would mean removing water from the ongoing negotiations through the World Trade Organization (WTO) and reversal of the present water privatization trend.

Public-public partnerships financed by innovative taxes and levies should run water supplies, ensuring that both quality standards and "ecosystem needs" are met, the Forum declared.

The Forum advises that water resources could be stretched enormously by retooling present production processes in agriculture, industry and transport to eliminate water waste; by extensive recycling and reuse; and by rehabilitating existing equipment instead of investing huge sums into new mega-infrastructures as suggested in Kyoto at the 3rd World Water Forum.

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Man throws his net to catch fish in Bulgaria's section of the Danube River. (Photo WWF-Canon Anton Vorauer)
Participants pledged to carry forward this agenda through campaigning work and lobbying of governments and international negotiating processes.

One target mentioned was to convert the 4th World Water Forum, set for 2006 in Montreal, into the inaugural session of the World Water Parliament, while promoting similar bodies at other levels.

During Peoples' Forum working sessions here in Florence, the European Commission came under bitter attack for allegedly supporting a global water grab by the nine European water multinationals.

Under the World Trade Organization's General Agreement on Trade and Services negotiations, the European Union earlier this year tabled secret requests to 109 WTO members on services liberalization, asking 72 developing countries to open up their water sectors to private investment.

The recently leaked requests, now featured on websites of nongovernmental organizations such as the Polaris Institute at: have raised a storm in Europe - not least among parliamentarians who have been refused access to the documents by their governments, or the European Union.

European parliamentarians here at the People's World Water Forum debated ways to recover legislators' "sovereignty" over the WTO trade talks, and vowed to set up a parliamentarians' action network focused on water related issues being negotiated under the WTO General Agreement on Trade and Services.

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Child in the Congo drinks from a pool. (Photo courtesy FAO)
Trade campaigning groups promised an escalation of their "take services out of the WTO" campaign before and after the September 2003 WTO ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico.

A number of speakers claimed that the European Union's water law is opening the way for the massive privatization of the European water sector which is now mostly publicly owned. The EU water law, known as a directive, involves the separation of ownership and management of water supplies, and mandates stringent technical and quality regulations which many local authorities could not finance.

Italian parliamentarians and NGOs slammed the Italian government's "pro-privatization" stance and the endorsement by Italy's Chamber of Deputies of article 35 in the recent budget law. This measure, which they claimed gives a restrictive interpretation to the EU water directive, would force privatization of municipal water services throughout Italy. It is being challenged by five Italian regions in the Constitutional Court.

French local authorities, which have concluded some 20,000 management contracts with private sector companies - mainly France's Suez and Lyonnaise des Eaux - would be urged by a new campaigning network to refuse to extend these pacts, Jacques Perreux of the French Val de Marne regional Council announced. French authorities would also be urged by campaigners to take legal steps to "remunicipalize" water, Perreux said.

Visit the 1st People's World Water Forum at: http://www.contrattoacqua.it

The Polaris Institute is online at: http://www.polarisinstitute.org