The Inter Press Service reports, “Amidst growing new threats of potential conflicts over fast-dwindling water resources in the world’s arid regions, the United Nations will commemorate 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation (IYWC). But Maude Barlow, chairperson, Council of Canadians and a former senior advisor on water to the president of the U.N. General Assembly in 2008-2009, warns the U.N.’s water agenda is in danger of being hijacked by big business and water conglomerates.”

“‘We don’t need the United Nations to promote private sector participation under the guise of greater cooperation when these same companies force their way into communities and make huge profits from the basic right to water and sanitation,’ Barlow told IPS. At this time of scarcity and financial crisis, she said, ‘We need the United Nations to ensure that governments are fulfilling their obligations to provide basic services rather than relinquishing to transnational corporations.’”

“Barlow told IPS big water corporations have gained influence in almost every agency working at the United Nations. The CEO Water Mandate, a public-private sector initiative launched by the United Nations in July 2007 and designed to assist companies in the development, implementation and disclosure of water sustainability policies and practices, puts corporations such as Nestle, Coca Cola, Suez and Veolia directly into a position of influence over global water policy and presents a clear conflict of interest, she said. ‘For-profit private companies cannot uphold the public interest if it conflicts with their bottom line,’ said Barlow, who is also founder of the Blue Planet Project. Even the World Water Development Report is now advised by an industry group on ‘business, trade, finance and involvement of the private sector,’ she added.”

“Specifically zeroing on the role of the private sector, Barlow told IPS that corporations are among those pledging their support for IYWC. Aguas de Barcelona, the water company at the heart of a fierce debate in Spain over control of drinking water, is participating, she pointed out. So are ‘corporations who fought us on the right to water are now scrambling to claim it in their own image’.”

“She quoted Nestle as saying that 1.5 percent of the world’s water should be put aside for the poor and rest should be put on the open market. If Nestle gets its way, she argued, there will one day be a water cartel similar to big oil, making life and death decisions about who gets water and under what circumstances every day. ‘But at least we have this recognised and acknowledged right that no one should be allowed to appropriate water for personal gain while others die from an inability to pay for water,’ she said.”

“(She added) with time, ‘we will build consensus around the right to water and the understanding that water is a common heritage and a public trust’. …Since the General Assembly recognised the human right to water and sanitation, a number of countries, including Mexico, Kenya, Bolivia, The Dominican Republic, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Ecuador, El Salvador, The Netherlands, Belgium, the UK and France, have either adopted laws recognising the right to water or amended their constitutions to do so. The Vatican recently recognised the human right to water and added that ‘water is not a commercial product but rather a common good that belongs to everyone.’ And last June, all 193 member states signed the Rio+20 Declaration which includes the recognition of the human right to water and sanitation as a universal right.”

The IPS article can be read at http://www.iede.co.uk/news/2013_923/uns-water-agenda-risk-being-hijacked-big-business.

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