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Blog Posts: Right to Water

March 21st, 2014

Five Ways You Can Make a Splash On World Water Day

By Katherine Cirullo

Water is life. Water is also a limited resource that’s under high demand. Here at Food & Water Watch, we’re fighting a global battle to protect the right to safe, clean, affordable water for everyone now, and for years to come. It’s a battle that we care deeply about and it pervades many of the issues we work on. That’s why tomorrow, on World Water Day, we’re inviting you to dive in and join us in the fight to promote sustainable water management, protect the human right to water and prevent the impending global water crisis. Here are five ways you can take action on World Water Day.

1. Add these two inspirational gems to your spring reading list: Blue Future and Ogallala Road. These profound, yet comprehensive books offer unique perspectives on the past and future of the water crisis:

Blue Future: Protecting Water For People and the Planet Forever by internationally best-selling author and Food & Water Watch Board Chair, Maude Barlow, exposes the handful of corporate players whose greed is impeding the human right to water. The latest in Barlow’s best-selling series, Blue Future lays out the obstacles ahead in this looming water crisis, as well as the many victories that have been won by communities in the fight to protect their right to water.

Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning by Julene Bair is a powerful personal history of her family’s western Kansas farm located on the Ogallala Aquifer. In the narrative, Bair reveals the struggles she grappled with when watching her family switch from dry-land farming to unsustainable irrigation. The story is a telling glimpse into one aspect of the world’s water saga. Visit her website for book events and appearances.

2. Encourage your classmates to kick the bottled water habit and to take back the tap! Be the force of change on your college campus by joining this year’s Tap-A-Palooza contest: Read the full article…

How to Disappoint 1.9 Million Citizens in a Few Minutes

By David Sánchez

For one moment, imagine that you are the Vice President of the European Commission. Citizens all around Europe have collected signatures demanding you to recognize the Human Right to Water and Sanitation in the European Union. This first ever European Citizen’s Initiative to be successful gained support from 1.9 million people. You had three months to discuss with your colleagues what to do about it. You start the press conference, smile to the cameras and speak for a few minutes. You announce that you say yes to the petition but you are aware that you are offering nothing. Finally, you leave the room.

Now imagine that the multinational company that manages water in your city cut off your water supply because you can’t afford to pay the bills. Or imagine that your municipal water supply is about to be privatized. Or maybe you were even involved in the signature collection and invested a lot of your time and efforts on it.

How would you feel in each situation? March 22nd is World Water Day, a good moment to reflect about the huge gap created this week between the announcement of the European Commission and the expectancies of 1.9 million European citizens on the right to water.

But, what is a European Citizen’s Initiative?

The European Citizen’s Initiative is a new democratic tool that tries to allow EU citizens to participate directly in the development of EU policies by calling on the European Commission to make a legislative proposal. You “just” need to collect one million signatures coming from at least 7 member states, following a really complicated set of rules and procedures.

And the Right to Water Initiative did it. Nearly 1.9 million signatures were collected with three basic demands: the legal requirement by EU institutions and Member States to ensure that all inhabitants enjoy the right to water and sanitation, a commitment that water supply and management will not be privatized and a commitment to increase EU efforts to achieve universal access to water and sanitation. These were three clear demands that had nearly no echo in the Commission’s answer.

The European Commission acknowledged the importance of the Human Right to Water and Sanitation and confirmed water as a public good. Which is good, but just words. They didn’t propose any legislation to recognize this right, just a compilation of already ongoing actions plus the announcement of a public consultation on the drinking water directive whose outcomes will not be binding. On the positive side, they committed to promote universal access to water and sanitation in its development policies, including the promotion of public-public partnerships. And that’s a step in the right direction.

But citizens had asked to exclude water and sanitation from what they call “internal market rules,” that is, privatization and liberalization. And the Commission did nothing. Water was excluded temporally, due to strong public opposition, from the last internal market legislation. But the Commission didn’t explicitly exclude these services from the ongoing trade negotiations, such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP or TAFTA) with the U.S. or the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada.

The European Water Movement, of which Food & Water Europe is part, stated it quite clearly: this decision implies a bad precedent for this new mechanism of public participation.

Water privatization is still a very concrete menace in many European countries, with the European Commission itself one of the main drivers. As part of the Troika (the tripartite committee composed by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund), they are pushing for water privatization in Greece and Portugal, while evidence from public auditing bodies confirms that privatization is detrimental both for local authorities and ordinary citizens. And the reality on the ground shows that when families can’t afford to pay their bills, they are being deprived of access to water by private companies, as happened recently in Jerez, Spain.

Citizens are mobilizing across Europe. Millions of Italians voted against water privatization and local referendums took place in major cities like Madrid and Berlin. Right now citizens of Alcazar de San Juan, Spain, are voting on a popular referendum about the privatization of their water supply. Thessaloniki, in Greece, will vote on May 18. And other cities, like Puerto de Santa Maria, also in Spain, are now mobilized for the same reasons.

Water should be a commons, not a commodity. We must close the gap between citizen’s expectations and EU decisions. We need to keep reminding our politicians of the importance of the right to water before the elections for the European Parliament. And we need to keep it in mind also in the World Water Day.

December 23rd, 2013

A Year of Victories

 

Earlier this month, the entire Food & Water Watch staff gathered to map out our work for 2014. We planned to briefly celebrate our victories from 2013, too… but from local fracking bans to protecting our food from arsenic, it took us over an hour just to list them all! 

These victories are all thanks to you, and we made this infographic to show you all you’ve done in 2013.

 Read the full article…

December 20th, 2013

Top Five Movies to Watch this Winter Break

By Briana Kerensky, Katherine Cirullo and Miranda Carter

‘Tis the season for peppermint hot chocolate, warm fuzzy socks and of course, movie marathons. This year, forget driving to the movie theater and overspending on a two-hour flick and what is, most likely, genetically engineered popcorn. 

Below is a list of thought-provoking, socially, politically and environmentally conscious films that our staff at Food & Water Watch enjoys and thinks you will, too! Got a movie to add to our list? Share your picks in the comments below.

  1. Gasland and Gasland 2: In this Oscar-nominated documentary, Director Josh Fox takes viewers on a cross-country journey to discover the hard, shocking truths behind the fracking boom that has swept across the United States. Interested in hosting your own Gasland or Gasland 2 screening in the new year? Food & Water Watch can help!

    Read the full article…

November 26th, 2013

Don’t Let Your Community Get Soaked: Protect State Water Programs

By Kate Fried

A water main break in Washington, D.C.

If you drank a glass of water, brushed your teeth or made a meal for your family today, chances are that you were able to do so thanks in part to a crucial program. The Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs) are state-administered programs that provide the primary source of federal money to communities needed to ensure the upkeep of critical drinking and wastewater systems. But funding for the SRFs has eroded in recent years, and Congress is now considering a proposal that if passed, will undermine the integrity of these important cash flow systems even more.

Tacked onto a big water infrastructure bill is an industry-backed program known as the Water Infrastructure Financing Innovation Act (WIFIA). It would give low-interest loans primarily to private water corporations to finance certain projects. If approved, WIFIA will make it harder for smaller communities to maintain and upgrade their drinking water and wastewater systems.

It may strike one as odd that a bill with the words “water” and “innovation” in its title would cripple local water systems. That’s because WIFIA is actually a wolf in sheep’s clothing. WIFIA would, in effect, compete with the SRFs for federal resources and place inappropriate pressure on local governments to privatize their drinking water and wastewater systems.

As we’ve seen time and again, private companies are not responsible stewards of our essential water systems. When profits are an entity’s main motivation, integrity of service goes down the drain. That’s why cities like St. Louis, Missouri and Fort Worth, Texas are just two of many that have recently opted to keep their water systems under public control. Read the full article…

November 14th, 2013

The Bottled Water Industry Continues to Target New Moms

By Katherine Cirullo

DS Waters of America, Inc. is a company that sells brewed coffee and tea beverages, break room supplies, equipment and services for water filtration systems and, of course, bottled water. What’s more? One of their dozen or so bottled water brands is marketed specifically for babies—and once again, their target is exhausted new moms. Just when you thought they couldn’t go any lower, the bottled water industry has hit rock bottom. DS Waters’ “Nursery” brand is another glaring example of how corporations are increasingly exploiting a public resource we cannot live without, bottling it, marketing it to a vulnerable consumer population and selling it to make a profit.

Back in 2012, Nestlé pushed two products on consumers in developing nations: infant formula and bottled water, defined by the company as “Popularly Positioned Products” that target “less affluent consumers in emerging markets.” Why? Because in selling infant formula to their target demographic of poor mothers in countries without safe drinking water, they would also sell the bottled water needed to prepare that infant formula. This is dubious marketing that, as Food & Water Watch’s executive director Wenonah Hauter stated in 2012, “undermines public health in the name of profit.”

DS Waters picked up on Nestlé’s troublesome tactics. “Nursery Water for Babies and Toddlers” is quite similar to one of Nestlé’s “Popularly Positioned Products.” Nursery’s ads are emotionally driven to sell health via bottled water to an impressionable market – new moms. Visit their website and you’ll be bombarded with idyllic images and messaging that claims Nursery water is what every Mom needs to raise a healthy child; mix it with formula, add it to juice! The company has brought all of its cards to the table in an attempt to win the minds of a population whose newest concern in life is to provide what’s best for their children. What’s actually best, DS Waters, is a world where corporations don’t commodify our essential public resources.

Bottled water is not safer than tap water. The Nursery brand boasts about its product’s nutrients and fluoride levels, but we see through their ploy. Tap water is actually subject to stricter regulation than bottled water. Moreover, tap water is much more affordable than what the industry is selling.

Even worse, bottled water is increasingly taken from tap water sources. In 2009, almost 50 percent of all bottled water came from municipal tap water supplies.

We cannot allow corporations to commodify a public, not to mention precious, resource. When companies gain access to municipal water sources, they literally take what belongs to that community and sell it elsewhere. Their extraction operations can interfere with the water source’s capacity to renew itself to sustain that community. Bottling water burdens those source communities and also threatens the environment as a whole; plastic water bottles are energy intensive to make and contribute to the planet’s growing plastic waste problem.

The goal of Nursery the brand is not to provide moms with what’s best – it’s to make  a profit. We must see past the absurd marketing ploys. We cannot allow corporations to usurp our public water supply while contributing to the destruction of the environment and the viability of a safe, affordable and sustainable future all.

October 29th, 2013

When it Comes to Water Advocacy, Maude Barlow Sees a Blue Future

Maude Barlow is a lot of things to us here at Food & Water Watch: a human rights activist, leader in the movement to protect our water and crusader against corporate control of public resources. But she’s also a talented writer, and a friend and ally who continues to broaden the scope of our work and makes us proud to do what we do. In her brilliant new book, Blue Future, Barlow lays out an important vision for the next phase of our battle to protect our human right to have access to the most important common resource.

Blue Future—available now in Canada and in the U.S. by January 7, 2014*— identifies the principles behind our best approach to water management across the entire planet and, in the process, lays out the work ahead. Barlow organizes Blue Future into chapters that serve as the tenets of water advocacy for the next several years, and it’s based on the idea of communities coming together, empowering themselves, and establishing control of their own water supply.   Read the full article…

September 20th, 2013

Thousands March Against Water Privatization

Over the past year, Food & Water Watch has worked with allies in El Salvador and the U.S. to fight a series of policies that are promoting privatization in El Salvador. The latest efforts to privatize water have been met with strong resistance by communities. Our friends at CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador) have written about the protests and we’re cross-posting their blog here for background. 

Photo courtesy CISPES.

On Thursday, August 22, thousands of community, environmental, youth and labor organizations filled the streets of San Salvador to demand the passage of a water law that would guarantee all Salvadorans’ right to water and prevent any forms of privatization of the essential resource. A draft of the legislation currently sits before the National Legislative Assembly, where right-wing parties have stalled its passage in hopes of including mechanisms for privatization and concession of public water administration.

The rally was organized by the Water Forum, a coalition that boasts a vast and diverse social movement membership, all out in force on Thursday. Community water committees, public water utility unions, organizations from the National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining, student groups from the National University, and a variety of non-profits blocked traffic on major city thoroughfares, chanting “Water is a right! Not merchandise!” The massive march began at the Salvador del Mundo monument and wound its way to the Legislative Assembly, detouring past the headquarters of the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party, where protesters stopped to chant, “They’re the ones! They’re the ones! The ones that sell out the nation!” Read the full article…

July 1st, 2013

Watch a TV Journalist Debunk Nestlé’s Water Rhetoric

By Briana Kerensky

Working to expose the truth about Nestlé’s dangerous and unethical bottled water sales sometimes feels like trying to storm a castle. Nestlé, the largest purveyor of bottled water in the world, hides their efforts to privatize public water sources behind walls of powerful marketing schemes. They don’t sell water; they sell a lifestyle of “health” and “wellness.” Nestlé tries to pass its product off as “Pure Life,” as their most popular brand’s name suggests. So how are smart consumers supposed to fight against “Pure Life?”

Well last week, Nestlé’s castle started to show some cracks. In a great segment on Russia Today’s “Breaking the Set,” host Abby Martin responded to a video message from the corporation in which they tried to defend their water-grabbing tendencies. In the video, a Nestlé spokesperson claims that the corporation’s top priorities are consumers, the environment and the human right to water.

The truth is, as Martin makes clear, that Nestlé’s only real priority is padding its bottom line. In the “Breaking the Set” segment, which you can watch below, the reporter refutes the corporation’s statements, pointing out that consumers are wasting money on a product that costs thousands of times more than tap water from their faucet, even though almost half of bottled water comes from municipal water systems; Nestlé continues to tap ground water sources during times of drought. While Nestlé is currently promoting the human right to water through marketing schemes, this only came about after public backlash that ensued when Chairman and former CEO Peter Brabeck went on record saying that water is neither a public nor a human right.

Read the full article…

June 17th, 2013

Ecuador, Jakarta move to protect water for people, not for profit

By Jaime Hamre, Food & Water Watch Intern

Both Ecuador and Jakarta, Indonesia have taken big steps recently to ensure access to water for their citizens. As part of the Water Law under negotiation in the National Assembly, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa announced the establishment of a minimum water consumption per person from which water prices and subsidies can be determined. Across the globe, Jakarta has initiated moves to remunicipalize its water system, aiming to repurchase shares from a foreign private firm.

President Correa’s declaration is especially important in light of Interagua’s privatization of the water supply in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city, in 2001. Interagua is a subsidiary of the American company Bechtel, the same company that fueled the infamous water war in Cochabamba, Bolivia. After Interagua procured a 30-year contract in Guayaquil, water prices increased by 180 percent. Even though key water systems, such as Guayaquil, remain privatized, in 2008, Ecuador rewrote its constitution to include rights for nature and also established the human right to water.

President Correa stated last week that when the minimum water consumption per person is determined, it will constitute a base for water pricing. President Correa is working with the National Secretariat of Water (Senagua) to analyze the cost to government of subsidizing water prices.

When water systems were privatized in Jakarta 16 years ago, water quality decreased, while tariffs rose by 258 percent. Led by governor Joko Widodo, the city is now moving to remunicipalize the system with help from groups such as the Coalition of Jakarta Residents Opposing Water Privatization (KMMSAJ), which has filed a lawsuit with the goal of annulling the 1997 contracts between the city and the private firm.

KMMSAJ is also helping with fundraising efforts in case the lawsuit is unsuccessful and the city must pay penalties for dropping the contract to take over operation. While re-municipalizing a water or wastewater treatment system can be quite costly in the short term, the long-term benefits in terms of cost savings, quality, transparency, and democracy are well worth it. Approximately 90 percent of global water systems are publically owned and operated.

In both Guayaquil and Jakarta, privatization has meant higher prices and poor water quality. The high price of water in Guayaquil, Ecuador since privatization has been linked to poor water quality and hepatitis outbreaks. In Jakarta, less than 35 percent of residents were able to receive service from the private company.

The privatization of systems often leads to price increase, as well as a decrease in quality and accessibility, whereas models such as public-public partnerships provide greater affordability and quality. For more on this issue, see our report: Water = Life: How Privatization Undermines the Human Right to Water.

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