4th World Water Forum in Mexico City

Political article
The Forum culminated in an appeal to governments, published by non-governmental organisations from four continents, Alliance Sud among them. Tthey called for concrete action to implement the right to water for all and to keep multinationals at bay.

Governments should (1) adopt a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council to strengthen the right to water, (2) establish an international mechanism to monitor implementation of the right to water, such as a UN Special Rapporteur on the right to water, and (3) bring their national water and sanitation laws and policies into line with UN General Comment 15 on the Right to Water. The latter sets out detailed standards on what governments must do to respect and ensure the right to water for all.

As at the last World Water Forum held in Kyoto in 2003, the ministerial declaration did not explicitly mention the right to water, though Bolivia as well as Uruguay and Venezuela had been lobbying for this.

At their alternative events and protest actions, the NGOs in Mexico City repeatedly pointed to the lack of legitimacy of the World Water Forum. It meets every three years, and although not a UN event, is regarded as the most important world gathering on the topic of water (see Alliance South News No. 45). The World Water Council, which organises the Forum, comprises governments, development organisations, banks and corporations, as well as research institutes and a few NGOs; it is dominated by the private sector.

Of course water privatisation was also a prominent topic in Mexico. Three years ago the World Water Council, World Bank and other entities were aggressively promoting privatisation as the silver bullet that would end the water problems of poor countries. It has since become clear that the corporations have made only scant investments, that they were primarily interested in select, profitable markets, and that their rate increase and other policies often sparked massive social protests. The advocates of privatisation were therefore slightly on the defensive in Mexico. Their interest has also now shifted somewhat from water supply systems toward big dam construction and large-scale irrigation projects to be carried out in conjunction with the private sector. The World Bank in particular is very keen to restore the respectability of such mega-infrastructure construction projects.

Many NGOs including Alliance Sud called on governments in general and development organisations in particular to make every effort to improve and strengthen existing public, non-profit water supply systems in developing countries. This also specifically concerns Switzerland, which is still highly fixated on Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) and actively advocated them in Mexico City.