Companeros and Companeras,

First, I am honoured to be here and send congratulations to the people of Colombia and the key organizations which are working on this campaign on your historic water referendum.

I am also humbled to be able to be asked to speak in support of the critical work of the citizens of your country. Over 2 million people signing this referendum represents the world’s largest mobilization for constitutional change supporting the right to water.

Thank you, your work has inspired networks around the world, and Red Vida, the strong water movement in the Americas, has stood in solidarity with our Colombian brothers and sisters as you have worked tirelessly over the past 2 years to give life to this initiative.

Unfortunately, the recent move by the Colombian House of Representatives threatens all the work and mobilizations of the past years.

As much as I congratulate the people of Colombia, we must condemn the elected representatives who are subverting democracy in your country and at the same time denying the world what might be the most important legal framework to deal with what I would suggest is the most critical issue of our time, water.

There is certainly no issue which touches the lives of more people. Yes, climate change, but where does climate change most strongly show itself…… water!

Witness that since I walked in that door, more than 500 children have died from preventable water-borne disease, over half the world’s hospital beds are filled because of not having access to clean water, desertification and environmental refugees are being created at an astounding rate –

This panel is on the international experience on the right to water. I would like to give you some small idea of what is happening internationally on this important topic… after years of ignoring the issue, finally we are seeing some attention, not enough, but some attention being given to this critical issue.

Last month, I was in New York with Maude Barlow the Senior Advisor on Water at the United Nations and a great friend of the Colombian water movement… we met with the President of the General Assembly and told him that Colombia was a model for how citizens could peacefully work to change their relationship to water.

We also met with over 30 countries and ambassadors to discuss water and human rights. It is clear that most governments around the world now understand that they can no longer deny recognition of the right to water. It is impossible that the government of Colombia be allowed to stop the will of the people.

In the past year alone there has been a great deal of progress….

In Istanbul, at the World Water Forum in April, 25 countries, many from Latin America, recognized the right to water, and many others will join in the coming months as the campaign continues.

The United Nations Human Rights Council has just assigned an independent expert who is working on the right to water.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights produced a report last year for the human rights council and clearly said that the right to water must be recognized…

In recent treaties like the convention on the rights of the child, the convention of elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and other treaties, and in the Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, the human right to water is recognized and so the world should know that there is a human right to water, no question!

But we do not need any piece of paper to tell us what we know.

All humans, living beings and ecosystems have a right to water and even beyond this, water has its own rights which we need to respect.

Today, the Colombian government needs to also recognize this and understand that your water referendum represents the future…

I say this because water is that profound… how we manage and interact with water defines what our future looks like…

Will the future be sustainable and based on justice and dignity for all living beings and our ecosystem, or will we try and drain the last drop from the dust we have created.

This is not an academic question, it is a question of survival!

Water also defines our relationship to each other and to nature. These relationships have become increasingly economic over the past decades as the neo-liberal model has been pre-eminent around the world.

The events of the past year clearly show us that this model cannot continue.

Governments are trying to keep this system alive by placing it on life support, but it is time for us to bury this model of capitalism and allow a more just system to have life.

Life begins from water, we are water, and I believe water can point us to a better future. We have no choice, we cannot continue to blindly go forward and ignore what is happening around us.

Climate change as I mentioned before, is an example… climate change is not about islands sinking and coasts flooding, by then it is over. Again, water is where climate change has its first effects? And none of us is immune, it used to be that water stressed countries were well-defined, mostly in Africa and Asia, now all countries are subject to water stress in new ways as things change. And many are creating water stress through pollution and draining of aquifers and rivers….

In the future there will be drought, melting glaciers, floods, desertification, environmental refugees and changed weather patterns which dislocate and stress communities. It is in higher food prices and a family of subsistence farmers no longer able to feed themselves and losing their land because of debt. It will be felt by real people, people just like us… who love their children and hope for a better future.

This however, does not have to be our future! It does not have to be dark, but for the light to shine we must act, and this is what you are doing with your water referendum… of course more will be needed after your victory, but you are acting.

The hope lies is in the commons and in communities working together and managing their water democratically and with community-participation. We need more cooperation and less competition. By working together we can solve these problems so that we are all better off and our societies are safe, sustainable and just. It may seem like a dream for a country in the midst of such upheaval, but water is of the sacred and can bring about this change!

We support you my Colombian brothers and sister because we also fight for this brighter future… your friends around the world support you and believe that you will fight …. Yes, for the future, but also for your democracy and rule of law in the present….

The Colombian government needs to be aware that people around the world are watching this process. I am happy to announce that in the past 48 hours almost 200 international organizations, from over 35 countries have signed a letter protesting this move by the government of Colombia and supporting the water referendum – and more continue to sign every hour.

This referendum is historic not only because of the massive mobilization and education of people in this country about the importance of protecting our water, but because of the content of the referendum.

The new act of the congress is trying to block the historic recognition of water as a human right, a common good and a public trust, all of which is in your referendum.

They are trying to eliminate the special protections for ecosystems essential to the water cycle, also in your water referendum.

In fact, they want to eliminate any challenge at all to the privatization of water, from the source to the tap.

You must not allow them to do this, it is too important, your work over the past 2 years is too important and protecting our water commons is too important.

Passing this referendum would put Colombia at the front of the global movement to protect and manage water for people and nature.

Blocking this referendum would distinguish Colombia as the only country to block such a democratic initiative. Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador and others have gone through political processes to change their constitutions and there has been no such blocking of the will of the people.

The rule of law is at the heart of our societies and the constitution is a pact between the government and its people. When a government breaks this pact and turn their backs on the rule of law and the will of the people, they lose all legitimacy.

We stand with all our brothers and sisters in Colombia and support you in your struggle, your struggle is our struggle and together we know that no corporation or government can stand in the way of the will of committed people working together for social and environmental justice.


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