Last weekend in Barcelona, the Council of Canadians participated in a gathering of more than 90 activists involved in planning the alternative world water forum (Forum Alternatif Mondial de l’Eau) to take place in Marseilles on March 14 to 17. The FAME is a counter summit taking in opposition to the 6th World Water Forum – a corporate trade show held every three years to give corporations direct access to ministers, heads of state and high level government officials in order to influence water policy.

The choice of Marseilles as a host city is significant. Marseilles is home to the World Water Council, the corporate think tank and lobby group that convenes the World Water Forum. Among its founders is the multinational water corporation, Suez. Its host city Marseilles has long been a financial supporter of the Council itself and France is considered by many to be the birthplace of water privatization.

The activists planning meeting hosted by the Barcelona-based Ingenieros sin fronteras (Engineers without borders), a leading organization in the Spanish water justice movement brought together activists from around the world.

Highlights of the FAME will include:
- Close to 45 workshops presented by activists and civil society groups around the world
- An opening ceremony featuring recent victories of the water movement including the formal recognition of water as a human right at the United Nations, the referendum vote against the privatization of water in Italy, the remunicipalization of water services in France and around the world and others.
- Plenary sessions on the right to water, water and the green economy, women and water and the future of the water movement featuring a combination of well-known speakers such as Ottawa-based activist Maude Barlow and Brussells-based Ricardo Petrella as well as community activists on the frontlines of water justice struggles.
- Prior to the opening ceremony, the Council of Canadians will work with allies to provide training and tools to equip activists to directly challenge the official World Water Forum and deconstruct its corporate discourse.

Broader participation and inclusiveness

In order to ensure fuller participation from activists who are unable to make it to Marseilles, there will be an “extended forum” online where plenary sessions and other events will be webcast. Stay tuned and look for updates on the FAME website for more information.

There were lively discussions in Barcelona on how to ensure democratic processes and be as inclusive as possible in developing a final declaration reflecting the messages of the alternative forum, how to ensure a media presence while avoiding spokespeople charged with the responsibility of speaking on behalf of all, how to maintain pluralism within our common messages etc.

Protesting the official forum

When the city of Marseilles (run by a right-wing mayor) learned about FAME’s plans to hold a rally against the World Water Forum, it decided to hold a parade on the same day involving local schools and institutions in order to drown out the voices of protest. Local organizers are now working on a plan B having contacted community groups, businesses and institutions to inform them of our concerns and the reasons to protest the world water forum and boycott the city’s parade.

Outreach within Marseilles

Local organizers have spent a lot of time and energy to raise awareness in Marseilles about the upcoming events and will be organizing training sessions for members of the community who wish to engage in the alternative forum and acts of creative protest taking place in the lead-up.

A key moment for the water justice movement

This year’s alternative forum is expected to attract over 2,000 civil society participants and will be an excellent opportunity to converge as a movement and share strategies at this crucial juncture. The World Water Forum itself is attended by ministers, heads of states, corporate executives, hundreds of journalists and thousands of others. The last forum had over 30,000 participants making it the largest water-related event in the world. The Marseilles forum is meant to be a launching pad for discussions surrounding water at the Rio +20 Earth Summit which will seek to promote water as an engine for the green economy.

If the meeting in Barcelona is any indication, we will be well equipped for a major battle.
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