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World Water Forum

Right to water

Monday 23 March 2009

The EU’s international water policies will face a double challenge from civil society campaigners and Southern governments when the World Water Forum starts in Istanbul next week (March 16-22) after a disagreement in negotiations in the run up to the Forum on the right to water [1]

According to a new report from Corporate Europe Observatory (PDF), the EU is still pushing for the inclusion of water in trade agreements, promoting privatised water services, and undermining water as a basic right.

A bloc of Latin American governments led by Uruguay is insisting that the Forum’s Ministerial Declaration recognises the right to water, that water should be excluded from trade negotiations and that the World Water Forum should become part of a democratically accountable UN process. These demands - supported by a global coalition of civil society groups - have so far been rejected by the US and EU governments.

The EU has previously been a prominent advocate of increasing the role of the private sector in water management and has explicitly rejected the right to water, but EU governments now seem split on whether to recognise water as a human right [2].

Uruguay and other Latin American governments are expected to seek support for a Complementary Declaration in opposition to the Forum’s official Ministerial Declaration, if their demands are not met.

Research by Corporate Europe Observatory shows that the EU - while refusing to disclose its objectives in international trade talks - is putting pressure on developing countries to privatise their water services and to make privatisation practically irreversible by including water in trade agreements.

Martin Pigeon, a researcher at Corporate Observatory (CEO) attending the World Water Forum said:

"The conference in Istanbul provides an opportunity for the EU to show if it has abandoned the failed privatisation approach and embraced truly sustainable water policies based on recognising and implementing the right to water via progressive public management."

Satoko Kishimoto, a water campaigner with Transnational Institute (TNI) added:

"In Istanbul, EU governments should back the Latin American governments who have turned their back on privatisation after really negative experiences. Attractive and workable alternatives to privatisation are available, such as public-public partnerships and democratisation of water management."

A new report published by TNI and the PSI Research Unit (PSIRU) calls for increased political and financial support for public-public partnerships, through which strong public utilities support weaker ones on a not-for-profit basis. The new report shows that public-public partnerships are a fast-growing trend and that there are now more countries with PUPs than with public-private partnerships (PPPs) in water. [3]

[1] The EU and US refused to back the call at negotiations ahead of the Forum held in Paris last week. See also

[2] While the EU as a whole rejects this demand, the governments of Spain, Germany and Netherlands do support recognising the right to water.

[3] The report Public-Public Partnerships in water, published by Transnational Institute (TNI), Public Services International (PSI) and the PSI Research Unit (PSIRU), will be launched at a side-event during the World Water Forum on Tuesday 17 November (8.30-10.30). Civil society campaigners from across the world are expected to gather at an alternative forum in Istanbul to make their voices heard inside the official World Water Forum.