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On Saturday, French civil society groups (Fondation France Liberte, Eau Vive, and Friends of the Earth) sponsored a powerful side event inside the Fourth World Water Forum (WWF) as a “bridge” between the International Forum in Defense of Water and the official WWF.

At the French pavilion in the trade expo area, the NGOs sponsored a panel discussion featuring Abel Mamani, Minister of Water for the new Government of Bolivia; Danielle Mitterand of Fondation France Liberte; and Silvana da Costa, President of ASSEMAE in Brazil. Information was presented on the Bolivian government´s efforts to reform its water sector through the public sector (and the efforts of the World Bank to obstruct those reforms), public sector successes in Brazil, and efforts to bring water services back to the public sector in France.

The location of the event in the French pavilion was significant, as it is French trans-national water corporations such as Suez and Veolia that have pushed hardest for water privatization around the world. The World Water Council, which sponsors the WWF, is based in France and dominated by the French water giants.

Bolivian Water Minister Abel Mamani described how the World Bank is trying to insist on increased privatization of water there as a condition of financial aid, despite the fact that the newly-elected government was elected with a clear mandate to end privatization.

Following the panel presentations, interventions from the audience in support of public water came from Myriam Constantin, a City Councillor from Paris; Jacques Perreux of the Val de Marne Regional Council; and Varages Mayor, Michel Partage, among others. French civil society groups feel they made a significant impact on the public/private debate with this bridge-building event, particularly in France.

Canadian activists in Mexico meet Canadian government officials

On Saturday evening, officials from the Canadian government delegation to the WWF met with Canadians representing civil society groups. Officials from the federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Environment, Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and Government of B.C. met with activists from Development and Peace, Council of Canadians, CUPE, KAIROS and Corporate Accountability International.

Representatives from the civil society groups pointed out that more than 236,000 Canadian citizens and 120 Canadian municipalities have signed a declaration in support of water as a public trust and a basic human right (see Development and Peace for more details). http:www.devp.org for more details The signed declarations will be formally presented to the Canadian government on Parliament Hill on March 22nd, World Water Day.

An interesting exchange dealt with the Canadian government’s opposition to recommendations from the U.N. Commission on Human Rights regarding the right to water. Civil society groups felt the government delegation came away with a better understanding of why our government should support what is known as General Comment 15, which deals with the right to water.

There was also talk about the need for stronger legislation to protect against bulk water exports from Canada.

Federal government officials noted that the new Conservative Minister of Environment is exploring options for an overall water policy for Canada, while the new Conservative Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs has asked for a list of First Nations communities with water problems.

It will be important for activists to monitor this Conservative interest closely, since the Harper government probably supports the ideology of water privatization.