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Global forum seeks to avert water crisis

Alexandra Hudson and Thomas Grove, Reuters
Government ministers from 120 countries, scientists and campaigners meet in Istanbul this week to discuss how to avert a global water crisis and ease tensions between states fighting over rivers, lakes and glaciers.

Nearly half of the world’s people will be living in areas of acute water shortage by 2030, the United Nations warned last week, and an estimated 1 billion people remain without access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

The world’s population of 6.6 billion is forecast to rise by 2.5 billion by 2050. Most of the growth will be in developing countries, much of it in regions where water is already scarce.

As populations and living standards rise, a global water crisis looms unless countries take urgent action, the international body said.
(15 March 2009)

Preparing for Water Quarrels, if not Wars

Hilmi Toros, IPS News
The Fifth World Water Forum begins in Istanbul Mar. 16

… The theme for the forum this year is ‘Bridging Divides for Water’. It will address global changes and risk management, and the protection of water resources. The conference is expected to produce a joint declaration, The Istanbul Consensus.

What that consensus can be built around is another matter. “A global water crisis is on its way,” says a paper prepared for the Forum by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the largest independent network working on natural resources, citing projected increases in population and pollution. Much of the concern boils down to a simple question: is water a “commodity” that profit-oriented private concerns can trade in, or a human right to be guaranteed by public institutions? Who owns it? Who should manage it?

The Forum maintains it has an open mind. Its programme declares that “the Forum is not a place for private firms to exploit water as a commodity but, to the contrary, to discuss and find common solutions that may be acceptable to all parties and be of benefit for all.” But it also offers a venue “perfectly placed to facilitate new business opportunities…as well as providing access to sizeable potential new customers.”

The Forum stands accused of having a particular agenda. “The Forum lacks democratic legitimacy and should be replaced by a UN process,” Olivier Hoedeman of the Amsterdam-based NGO Corporate Europe Observatory told IPS in a telephone interview. “The World Water Council, which controls the Forum process, is simply a private think-tank unaccountable to anyone but itself. It has a history of close ties to private water multinationals and of promoting the neo-liberal agenda for the water sector.”

His NGO and others are backing an alternative ‘People’s Water Forum’ to run on the same dates, proclaiming “Water for People, Not Profit” and that “Another Water Management is Possible”, taking a cue from the World Social Forum slogan “Another World is Possible”.
(15 March 2009)

Chilean Town Withers in Free Market for Water

Alexei Barrionuevo, New York Times
… Quillagua is among many small towns that are being swallowed up in the country’s intensifying water wars. Nowhere is the system for buying and selling water more permissive than here in Chile, experts say, where water rights are private property, not a public resource, and can be traded like commodities with little government oversight or safeguards for the environment.

Private ownership is so concentrated in some areas that a single electricity company from Spain, Endesa, has bought up 80 percent of the water rights in a huge region in the south, causing an uproar. In the north, agricultural producers are competing with mining companies to siphon off rivers and tap scarce water supplies, leaving towns like this one bone dry and withering.

“Everything, it seems, is against us,” said Bartolomé Vicentelo, 79, who once grew crops and fished for shrimp in the Loa River that fed Quillagua.

The population is about a fifth what it was less than two decades ago; so many people have left that he is one of only 120 people still here.

Some economists have hailed Chile’s water rights trading system, which was established in 1981 during the military dictatorship, as a model of free-market efficiency that allocates water to its highest economic use.

But other academics and environmentalists argue that Chile’s system is unsustainable because it promotes speculation, endangers the environment and allows smaller interests to be muscled out by powerful forces, like Chile’s mining industry.
(14 March 2009)