The People’s Water Forum brought together an enthusiastic crowd of nearly 700 people from all corners of the globe in Istanbul,Turkey. Water justice activists organized the event to counter to the corporate-controlled World Water Forum.
Speakers and participants shared success stories and strategies to keep water in public hands. A common theme was the demand that water be recognized as a human right. Participants were equally clear that multinational water corporations had no place in discussions about solving the world’s water crisis and providing water and sanitation for all.
CUPE’s delegation was inspired and moved by the stories of water struggles from around the world. They listened closely to the messages from progressive politicians, workers and grassroots activists working to resist the World Water Council’s push to privatize. The Council organizes the World Water Forum, which is held every three years.
Those attending the People’s Water Forum were shocked to hear from Turkish parliamentarian Sebahat Tuncel about the government’s plan to build eight new dams, flooding a massive area populated by the Kurdish peoples. It will completely submerge a 10,000-year-old city that is a gem of architectural and cultural heritage.
She described how water policy can double as security policy to repress and displace people by destroying their lands through the flooding. “It will be a wall of water causing poverty and migration…using water against humanity”. She called the dam plans “using the very thing that sustains life to take it away.”
Tuncel is the youngest woman to serve in the Turkish parliament and the first person in the country’s history to be elected to parliament from jail, where she was held because of her activism for human rights.
An elected official from Malaga, Spain described the Red Fal to the People’s forum. It is a growing network of local government officials who share a progressive social vision and believe that access to water should be protected by law. The network advocates for sustainable, participatory, public management of water.
The movement was founded at the first world social forum in Puerto Alegre, Brazil and now has more than 1,000 members including 150 mayors and 50 governors. The Red Fal representative told the participants we are living in a crucial moment that has pitted the market against the state, private interests against public interests and selfishness against solidarity.
Al-hassan Adam of the Africa Water Network warned of a new trend in Africa, one that highlights the danger of corporatized public water utilities in search of new business. “The goalpost is shifting from traditional privatization to European utilities ‘partnering’ with utilities in Africa to privatization. Privatization is now being promoted by public corporations,” he said.
Many speakers highlighted public-public partnerships, where utilities and workers pool resources and expertise across cities and continents, as the way forward for public water.
Participants adopted an alternative declaration that maps out a future where public water and sanitation services are human right for all.
The forum space was decorated with posters and banners from many countries, including CUPE flags and the award-winning CUPE 1978 sewage campaign poster – which made its way onto the bathroom walls,and was a popular souvenir among participants.
The day ended with a rousing singing of ‘Solidarity forever’ and Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, the South African national anthem, led by anti-privatization activist Virginia Setshedi of the Africa Water Network. “When I go home to Soweto and I turn on the tap and no water comes out, I know I am not alone,” she said – summing up the solidarity that was alive in the room.