The United Nations recently reported that a key UN goal of halving the proportion of people lacking access to clean drinking water has been achieved five years early. This news comes on the eve of the 6th World Water Forum next week in Marseille, France with the theme, “Time for Solutions.” Despite the rosy outlook the UN report suggests, activists are sounding the alarm that we’re not on the right path—and that no one should be confused about the dangers of letting corporations guide water policy.
Certainly, activists and the corporate-backed World Water Forum don’t agree on solutions to address the nearly one billion people without access to clean water and 2.6 billion who lack proper sanitation. The forum was conceived by the World Water Council, which promotes itself as an “international, multi stakeholder forum”. Its web site touts the tagline, “A global water movement for a secure world”.
But the World Water Council’s strong ties to large multinational water companies like Suez and Veolia, who are currently under investigation in the EU for price fixing, have led activists to view the Council and it’s tri-annual World Water Forum as a means of furthering the industry’s influence over the development agenda. This includes promoting market-based tools like water markets, pollution trading, and other schemes by which corporations can both profit off of—and keep polluting—an increasing scarcity of clean water.
Council of Canadians Chair and Food & Water Watch board member Maude Barlow says, “The World Water Forum is convened by big business lobby organizations like the Global Water Partnership, the World Bank, and the leading for-profit water corporations on the planet. The discussions focus on how companies can benefit from selling water to markets around the world. While governments are present, they are not in charge.”
Activists will be holding an Alternative Water Forum (also known as Forum Alternatif Mondial de l’Eau, or FAME), where the solutions look much different from those set forth by the World Water Council. Since the UN recognized the human right to water in 2010, there is a precedent for using it as a guiding principle; activists believe that no one should profit off of limiting access to—or polluting—an essential resource.
Unless the exploitation of nature for profit stops, access to clean water and other necessities for life will be for those who can pay up.
That’s why activists will be attending the Alternative Water Forum: to raise awareness that our essential resources should be transparently regulated and governed for the benefit of all.
This post originally appeared on Alternet.