In 2010, the access to clean water and sanitation has been recognized by the UN as a human right. Maude Barlow was key to make that happen. Nevertheless, goverments all over the world are far from implementing this right in terms of concrete polcies. The UN water millennium goals are going to fail, says Barlow, although the UN claims to fulfill them, as the indicators are misleading.
Maude Barlow, Council of Canadians/Blue Planet Project, Right Livelihood Award Laureate ("Alternative Nobel Prize")
Fabian Scheidler: A new WHO/UNICEF study reports that the UN Millennium Goal concerning access to water has already been hit three years before the deadline in 2015. You doubted that. Why?
Maude Barlow: I think it's a very misleading statement. I'll tell you the principal measurement they use is how many pipes have been put in in each country between the last time they asked the question and now. They count those pipes and say there are x more pipes, therefore x more people must have access, therefore the problem is solved. First of all, making it all about pipes is threatening more ground water. Starting with the notion of pipes as the answer is part of the problem. That's No. 1. No. 2: There might be a pipe - is there clean water coming out of it? Is it five kilometres away from you and you have to walk there and take your kids with you? Do you have to pay for it? If you have to pay for it and can't afford it, how does that make the access to water better? The other issue that I have with that statistic is that the U.N. itself and other institutions like the Pacific Institute and others are coming out with other studies that totally contradict that. The bottled water industry itself came out with a study through the World Bank that said that by 2030 our demand for water in the world will outstrip supply by 40%. That's a stunning statistic. How does that match a statement from the U.N. that we've met the Millennium Development Goals on drinking water? There's another recent study from the U.N. on Africa. It sais currently one in three people don't have adequate access to water in Africa but they're saying at current rate of trend that will be up to one in two people not having access, going exactly the opposite direction. This was last year. Africa will not meet its Millennium Development Goals. By a long shot it won't meet them.
So I just think it's a misleading indicator or set of indicators that they've used and I worry a lot about it because like everywhere my newspaper in Ottawa, Canada had this little story, the "it's all better, wonderful advances, everything's better" kind of thing. It's not! And it's a dangerous thing to have out there.
David Goessmann: One year ago the UN adopted a historic resolution recognizing the human right to safe and clean water and sanitation as "essential for the full enjoyment of the right to life". Talk about this human right, why it is so important and how it should be implemented.
Maude Barlow: That was a very important day in my life frankly because I worked really hard for that day and I didn't think it would come for years. But the brave former ambassador from Bolivia to the U.N. Pablo Solon decided he'd had enough waiting and he just introduced the resolution in June 2010 and on July 28th 2010 the U.N. voted and a 122 countries said: "you got it". 41 abstained, mine included, the U.S. too, but that's OK, we didn't need them. And then two months later the Human Rights Council adopted a similar resolution and laid out the obligations to governments. So now the human rights to water and sanitation are as great as any right at the United Nations. As solid as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Now every government in the world is obliged, supposed to - that doesn't mean they're going to, but they're supposed to - come up with a plan of action based on their new obligations and hand that to the U.N. They're supposed to start the process of implementation. And it matters because what this strongly says is that governments are responsible to provide safe drinking water and sanitation to their people, not corporations and not the people themselves. And the corporate model that Suez and NestlÇ and the World Water Council are talking about is pricing - what they call full cost pricing. That means that the consumer has to pay all of the water price. Now I have no problem paying a service charge to provide good clean public water. I have no problem with that, that's a different issue. A full cost pricing in the private system says it's up to you and if you don't have the money - Gee, I guess you're going to die. This said for the first time at the U.N. the nations of the world came together and said it is government's responsibility. And that's a very important concept in a world where everything's being turned over as fast as they can to the market to make these decisions. That's the whole austerity thing in Europe. Our next step is implementation of this right and we're working very hard with movements and groups like the people in here to put together nation-state plans if their governments aren't doing it to start to push them. We want the governments to adopt constitutions that recognize the human right to water and sanitation.
Fabian Scheidler: Talk about the resistance movement against the privatisation and commodification of water. Also about the Alternative Water Forum from its beginnings from Kyoto, Mexiko, Istanbul to today and also about the future perspectives of that movement.
Maude Barlow: I think a lot of the resistance started with the water war in Cochabamba in 1998. That was just a year after the first world water Forum was held. We weren't there because it was only the founders, the companies and the World Bank, so it wasn't open to the public. The first one open to the public was The Hague in 2000. I was there and we made up the term Blue Planet Project on the plane on the way over. We were thinking: We're going into this, what is it, who are these people? We knew we weren't going to like them. We just found other people. We didn't have a water movement then. We didn't have names of people in most other countries. We had no network, internet, listservs, none of that stuff and we kind of found each other there. We'd get into groups and we would meet in rooms that we would find open and we would take over challenging at the mike. We would challenge the suits at the front of the room. By the next one which was in Kyoto we were much more prepared, much more organised, but the Japanese, our friends, didn't want us to do anything too aggressive. Because we like good protest. We had one good protest, but they mostly wanted us to do quieter protests. But we had a lot of fun. We had these lie-meters. They were like little forest fire warning things. They were round and went from white to pink to orange to red. And they had little bells on them. And if somebody got up and told a little lie we'd do a little tinkle and if they told a bigger lie we'd tinkle tinkle tinkle and if they told a whopper you'd hear tinkletinkletinkletinkletinkletinkle all over this room - it was a riot.
By Mexico City, which was the next one, we held the first Alternative Water Forum. This time we felt "we're not just going to hang out on yours and give you a hard time, we're going to build on our own" and that was a big decision. We had a huge march with thousands of people. They had a huge security there; you could tell they were nervous.
Istanbul was unbelievable - 26,000 people there, the security was awful; they brought out water cannons to hurt, really hurt, and aimed at peaceful protesters. I was there, I know. But we just continued to grow. But here this is the first time that we really rival in number the world water forum because we've got well over 3000 people registered here. They're claiming they have 9000; they were expecting 25,000 - that's pretty pathetic. I don't think they have 9000. I think you could take a bowling ball and roll it down to the middle of their trade show today. We've watched this movement grow and we're watching it grow on the ground. We're on listservs, we're on Facebook, we've found each other. And we're a movement whose time has come. And I fell we're on the ascendancy. That doesn't mean there aren't formidable issues and powerful forces that we're up against. But I mean the energy here is fabulous. This is the cool place to be, not over there.
Fabian Scheidler: Some at the FAME say that the movements should head for a UN summit on water in 2014, as opposed to the World Water Forum. What is your opinion on that, given that other UN processes such as the climate process, have largely failed?
Maude Barlow: That one's still under discussion. The thinking is that we're saying the World Water Forum is illegitimate. It should never have been given the legitimacy in the first place. Governments should never have come; they should never have had a declaration. There's no legitimacy to it. So what we've been saying is it belongs in the U.N. now. Then what? We want to have more of a say in what happens at the U.N. because the problem with the U.N. as you know is the corporations are all over it, too. Coca-Cola basically sponsors the committee of the parties on climate discussions, it's disgusting. We don't want that same thing to happen with water, so we want to have a more proactive voice in what the U.N. does. In my opinion the U.N. is still a contested area. The World Bank is not, for me, nor is the WTO. We're against them, period. And what they do. But we still think that the U.N. is a contested area that we should be fighting for. We should be fighting for the soul of the U.N. It's very important not to give up, because it's the only international institution that's supposed to serve, or be about governments serving their people. And even though they've lost sight of that doesn't mean that we should give up on it. That's our felling about it. That's the dialogue that's going on.