Alternative World Water Forum

The success of the Alternative World Water Forum (FAME) that took place in Marseilles in March 2012 has surpassed all our hopes and we have been as overwhelmed with the number of participants, as with the content shared. According to Darcey O’Callaghan, Food & Water Watch’s international policy director, ”FAME’s organizers and volunteers deserve our greatest congratulations for the best Alternative Forum ever achieved so far. A large substantive work has been made to promote community and citizen-based solutions, as well as to implement the right to water and sanitation.” On the opening evening, Gus Massiah, one of the founders of the anti-globalization movement, said that FAME was like the birth of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre before the Davos Summit: A new movement was definitely born in Marseilles!

Of course there is a link between the success of FAME and the failure of the Water World Forum (WWF). It is particularly interesting to compare the way the two forums have dealt with the same themes. One of FAME’s strong points is that both the activists and the public agree that the UN should recognize and implement the right to water for every human being. Throughout the alternative forum, every working group and every plenary session worked on the same goal, to try to find possible way to achieve the right to water be it through national laws and constitution, enforceable rights, through legal action and tribunals etc. On the other hand, the World Water Forum seemed like a time machine going backwards. The ministerial declaration that gives the forum its political meaning, used an older wording than that of the UN declaration and leaves every state the room to decide its own interpretation and rules…the same attempt to get around the obligation surface again during the preparations for Rio+20.

The Water World Forum emphasized the green economy, putting nature and water into economic and commodified terms which was its main and repetitive theme. This fact has been raised by Gabriel Blouin Genest, a PHD student and Sylvie Paquerot, a political science professor from Ottawa University, in their paper ”Language analysis and theme evolution in Water World Forum declarations from 1997 – 2012”. FAME denounced the green economy during one of its plenary sessions and has particularly emphasized and developed on the idea of the commons.

The denouncing of extractivism, that is to say the exploitation of natural resources on an industrial scale – under any hydrocarbon forms (including shale gas and oil, mines, large dams, farming industry, etc…) was particularly strong during FAME, building a powerful link between social and environmental struggles against pollution. On the other hand, the theme of pollution is practically missing in the WWF (and in its ministerial declaration) , and when it appears it is only to appear isolated from the other themes.

The blue stream of democracy passed through FAME , with very numerous examples of successful referendums in Italy, in German towns like Berlin, in Madrid, Spain, but also in Latin America. The demand for people to be consulted before every big decision about water is taken, has been received with great interest everywhere. However, the will to take part in the every day management of water was also important, including direct participation. Without even mentioning referundums, in general, politics and the responsibility of the state were almost completely absent in the WWF concerns.

The results of FAME open up new perspectives. The desire to continue working together will be developed in campaigns and in the long term through common structures, particularly at the European level.

  • The European Citizens’ Initiative, ”Water is a human right” has been carried out by public services trade unions since September 2012
  • The European Citizens’ Initiative, ”Water belongs to the citizens” will be carried out by a platform of associations in 2013.
  • The creation of an European Movement for water as a commons with a setting up of working groups and a general assembly planned for November 2012.

FAME has given rise to what we have in common. The sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos says ”The defense of the commons is a response to the commodification, the privatization, and to the financialization of life. Commons are produced by nature or by groups of humans and must belong to the community and not to the private sector, nor to the state, even if the latter must participate in their protection. They are the counterbalance to capitalistic development. Water starts to be considered like the archetypal common good. The fights against its privatization in many countries can be counted as some of the most victorious.

Translated from original text by Jean-Claude Olivia
Coordination Eau Ile -de-France.

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