The well-laid plans of international water privateers were waylaid by activists from around the world at last Marchs World Water Forum in The Hague.
Organized by a handful of powerful corporations and institutions, the forum was supposed to shape a vision for the worlds water in the 21st century in particular for developing countries, where access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation remains a question of life and death for many millions.
Forum organizers were pushing a vision tailor-made for those who wrote it the water corporations and the World Bank. Their goal: increase private sector control of water in developing countries a profitable new market with literally billions of customers. Having launched their water plans in Europe and North America, the water giants are now turning their attention to the developing world in what one union observer called the colonialism of the 21st century.
Among the forums 4,500 participants were some dissenting voices, including CUPE representatives. When the forum opened, unions werent on the agenda or the guest list. Through a delegation led by Public Services International, union members from around the world created the pressure needed to make themselves heard in the ministerial meetings and cast enough doubt on the forums credibility that government representatives from around the globe refused to rubber-stamp the water forums agenda.
At the same time, the non-governmental organization group issued a strongly worded statement condemning the forum as a closed meeting with a pre-determined outcome.
Neither the forum nor the ministerial conference recognized water as a basic human right, or assured access for all. And many are concerned another pressing issue didnt even make it on the agenda. International trade agreements such as the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) threaten to pry open the water services market for multinationals, leaving governments powerless to defend their water.
Despite losing much of the legitimacy they once had, forum organizers are forging ahead. The next forum is planned for Japan in 2003, with Montreal next in line in 2006. Water dissenters will be there to meet them in kind.