World Water Forum: An Agenda for Privatizing Water?

Published on March 26th, 2009 | by

The World Water Forum (WWF) held in Istanbul last week has turned out to be a more highly contentious event than anticipated by many.  The forum got off to a rough start when Turkish police fired tear gas and detained activists who protested against the privatization of water, the most charged and controversial issue surrounding the triennial event and for water activists worldwide.

Water, a contentious issue
Water, a contentious issue

Protesters were heard shouting slogans including “water for life, not for profit.” According to Democracy Now, two activists from the non-governmental organization International Rivers were deported after holding up a banner reading “No Risky Dams” just prior to the conference’s commencement.

This video, which we first discovered courtesy of the Sacred Water Project, shows the activists protesting and the Turkish police making arrests.

Representatives of the People’s Water Forum (PWF) are shocked at how the World Water Council (the organizers of WWF) and the members of the forum itself, has turned a blind eye to the actions of the police, and a deaf ear to protests.  When asked about the apparent indifference towards outside goings-on at the conference, Maude Barlow, the senior adviser on water issues to the United Nations General Assembly, said “They’ve just accepted it and enjoyed it and taken advantage of the tough security measures here.”

Why is this happening?

PWF holds that WWF’s ultimate agenda is less about addressing the critical issues related to water and more about promoting water privatization. Says Barlow,

“For several years, the World Water Council has used this forum to create the illusion of global consensus around risky privatization schemes. But privatizing water systems is not an effective means of delivering this essential resource to the 6.7 billion people who rely on it to live. Water is a public trust and a human right. It is not a commodity, nor should its value be determined by corporate interests.”

Wenonah Hauter of Food and Water Watch points to extremely high costs for water in twenty U.S. states thanks to  profit-oriented private companies who now control the utility.

“Privatization is not more efficient, and there are dozens and dozens of studies from around the world, the developed world and the Global South that prove this. It’s more expensive. It causes more environmental problems. And the incentive is to not conserve water, but to use as much water as possible and to spend as much money as possible in building and fixing infrastructure,” says Hauter.

Our own Jennifer Lance also pointed out in her article last week covering the WWF that the World Water Council is dominated by two of the world’s largest private water corporations, Suez and Veolia. Both have promoted policies of Public-Private Partnerships (PPP’s) that put water services under private ownership, usually resulting in price hikes and decreased pollution control.


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