Group Launches Global Offensive Against Water-Guzzling MNCs

Jan. 20, 2004
Participants Travel 1,500 km Spreading the Word

The People's World Water Forum (PWWF) has launched a global campaign against multinationals Coca Cola and Suez Degremont, attempting to drum up popular support against water privatization at the World Social Forum in Mumbai, India.

"These two companies are the prime exploiters of global water resources. Suez leads in privatization of water in most countries and Coca Cola leads in having conflicts with local people over groundwater mining," Vandana Shiva of the NGO, Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology alleged.

PWWF, whose participants include members of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from more than 60 countries, had embarked on a 1,500-km train journey from New Delhi to Mumbai, stopping along the way to spread the word against water privatization and educate people on water rights.

"We will take our concerns on water-related issues to those organizations, which are not working on them. We plan to hold public hearings, testimonies and workshops," Shiva declared.

NGOs have decided to give a push to campaigns against corporate groundwater extraction which have devastated local ecology, indigenous communities and economies, in Plachimada in south India, Varanasi in north India and Potisi in Chile .

The Forum also pledged support to local people and communities in their battled for water resources. The communities will be given support on issues like relocation of people due to river linking, privatization of water, groundwater mining by multinational companies and cutting off water supply to the poor.

The movement will also lobby with the United Nations (UN) to ensure water is included as a fundamental right in its International Covenant of Ecological, Social and Cultural Rights.

Tony Clarke from the Polaris Institute, Canada, added that, "Apart from the UN, we will also lobby with national governments to accept and give water the status of a human right. Water is a public good that needs to be publicly financed and not given in private hands."

PWWF has decided to educate people against the ill effects of privatization of water. Activists said most water projects are being executed with public money, but there is a popular misconception that the projects are funded by multinational companies (MNCs) and the private sector.

The Forum plans to act as a pressure group as well.

As Clarke puts it, "The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are giving a big push to privatization of water. But the money with the World Bank is public money, so it should be used for public work. People are not aware of this. We want to pressure the Bank into supporting public water utilities and respecting the human right to water."

The alliance also wants governments to come clean on their projects with MNCs. As Shiva put it, "The Delhi government has not made public its pact with the Suez company for a water treatment plant in north-east Delhi. We want to see it because such agreements always go against the interests of the poor."

Agreed President of the Danielle Mitterrand Foundation, Danielle Mitterrand, "Privatization of water is against the interests of people. Governments should think of alternative methods of water distribution, instead of handing over water resources to private companies."

Danielle, the wife of late French President Francois Mitterrand, remains involved in the global movement against water privatization for the last four years. She said mayors of many cities in France have created an association Aqua Revolte - to take back water supply from private companies.

Most NGOs at the global water meet were also opposed to massive river linking projects, on the grounds that river diversion projects displace people, upset ecosystems and constitute anti-democratic water use and management.

Clarke said river diversion schemes are spreading like an epidemic. "These are unsustainable, outmoded and obsolete, but are being resorted to by the Indian, Chinese, Canadian, Spanish and even African governments."

Niel Robinson, a minority activist from the US said private water companies in the US have cut off the supply of poor people who were unable to pay for water. Minorities, women-headed households and the poor are the worst affected.

Shiva added that the PWWF will also rally pilgrims for the cause of India's sacred river Ganges. She said, "The holy dip in which pilgrims from all over India take a bath in the Ganges, has begun. But people haven't been told water will be diverted because it has been privatised. This will hurt people's religious beliefs."

Source: One World South Asia