terça-feira, 14 de julho de 2009


Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Sholain Govender-Bateman

PRETORIA (IPS) - The World Food Programme (WFP) is urging G8 leaders to turn words into action and meet urgent hunger needs in Africa and other developing nations as they gather in Italy for the 2009 G8 Summit.

At a press briefing ahead of the start of the three-day summit, WFP spokesperson Gregory Barrow said the global economic downturn has followed on the heels of a year when the ranks of the hungry in Africa and elsewhere increased due to the impact of high food prices.

"The biggest impact of the global financial downturn on WFP's operations in Africa is an increase in the caseload of the hungry, particularly among urban populations that depend on remittances from abroad; populations who have lost jobs because of a fall in demand for commodities; and populations who depend on income from industries such as tourism that have been hit hard by the recent economic conditions."

The most recent figures released by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation show that over one billion people around the world are in desperate need of food.

This year's G8 summit takes place in L'Aquila, Italy from Jul. 8 to 10. Leaders of Canada, Russia, France, Japan, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States, together with the European Union, are scheduled to hold a session on hunger issues on Friday.

They are expected to sign a joint declaration and launch an initiative aimed at securing funds for long-term agricultural development and short-term hunger needs.

WFP Deputy Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer, Amir Abdulla, and Nancy Roman, Director of Public Policy, Communications and Private Partnerships said the G8 summit's focus on the current global economic crisis and food security would help create a platform from which WFP could address the needs of the hungry in a two-fold manner.

Roman said that increasing agricultural production through the development of small-scale farmers and communities was critical to addressing long-term hunger problems of a growing population. She said the latest statistics project the population to rise from 6.8 billion people today to 9.1 billion by 2050.

Access to food was crucial to addressing short-term hunger as lack of infrastructure and security issues in many developing nations preventing food aid from reaching hungry people, she said.

Abdulla emphasised that access also included situations where supply had increased but local people who were in need of food did not get the produce.

"When food prices were at the highest in mid 2008 - there was actually quite a good harvest in South Africa. But that food was not being eaten by the hungriest and poorest people in Lesotho, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

"A lot of that South African maize was being exported for animal feed to wealthier countries."

He said that aside from increasing supply it was important to ensure that hungry people were able to get that food.

WFP's current food programmes assist just over one hundred million people, with an operation level cost of $6.5 billion.

The current funding shortfall is $4.5 billion. "WFP is calling for this year's G8 Summit to turn words into action and provide the essential support required to meet urgent hunger needs as well as long term investment in agriculture in the developing world," said Barrow

??"Governments of G8 countries have found trillions of dollars to save financial institutions and to inject momentum into flagging economies. The amount required to support an agency like WFP that will provide vital food assistance to more than 100 million people this year is a tiny fraction of this amount."

sábado, 11 de julho de 2009


Friday, 10 July 2009

Sanjay Suri

L'AQUILA (IPS) - As numbers go, and as expectations went, 20 billion dollars would be a fair bit for the G8 to produce to fight the food crisis and bring down hunger. Certainly, it was more than most expected.

Many members of civil society would have been happy enough with 15 billion dollars over four years – if only because they have learnt over time to expect relatively little. As it stands the G8 spoke of 20 billion dollars in three years.

Spoke, that is. And carefully, too. The G8 leaders (and another five from major developing countries, and Egypt) said in their declaration at the end of their three-day summit that they "welcomed commitments" by the countries meeting in L'Aquila, Italy "towards a goal of mobilising 20 billion dollars over three years…" Not a joint pledge, but a welcome step towards an ideal.

After some years of promises made and not kept, the G8 (Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Canada, Japan and the United States) would seem right to lose a little faith in themselves. At least the language is more careful. Remember the G8 at Gleneagles in Scotland when that nice round figure of 50 billion dollars of aid one way or another was doing the rounds. The precise fraction of that which was for real has never quite been worked out.

And so civil society is not celebrating yet. "What we could say is that it is a belated step in the right direction," Kumi Naidoo, global co-chair of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP), told IPS. "However, we have to look at the details because the G8 are masters of spin."

For example, Naidoo said, among the more recent ones, "the commitment of 30 billion dollars of food aid made in June 2008 has not yet been realised. So we want to see who's putting up the money, when the money will be available, how the money will be available, before we can embrace it fully as a success."

Italy, the host country, he said, has thought nothing of cutting aid by 500 million dollars. So who will pay more and who will even cut down what aid they were giving is less than clear. "We would like to hear from the Italian government if there has been any shift in their thinking as a result of the G8." If that is in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's thoughts at all, that is.

But more fundamentally than amounts declared as goals and those fractions delivered, Naidoo says the G8 must go beyond the business of producing numbers and simply wiping off its hands as a job well done. The G8 must think differently, he says. And recent times dictate why it must.

"Food price rises, fuel price rises, the financial crisis, the ongoing poverty and the ongoing climate crisis…they have all come together," he said. "A good big crisis is a terrible thing to squander away - we should think of these crises as opportunity. The G8 is thinking of each of these as stand-alone problems rather than looking for ways to see how we can respond to these problems in an integrated, non-fragmented way."

That kind of thinking is still some miles beyond the horizon. Right now civil society will have to live with watching that number space. And to count how much less money will be forthcoming than what it seems, or what is said.

Because even if the entire 20 billion were to come and get to the right people at the right time – among the bigger 'even ifs' of the world – it would still not be enough.

The G8 note in their declaration that "the number of people suffering from hunger and poverty now exceeds one billion." And so 20 billion dollars, say for the moment all of it, still adds up to 20 dollars a hungry head over three years. That money does not buy a lot of food in any part of the world.

True, this is not an entirely fair numbers game either. The money could be used sensibly to promote agriculture rather than as traditional aid. But this is crisis money, and falls short of even the minimum demanded by the global meltdown.

"This money will not be sufficient to deal with the challenges of the food crisis across the world," Otive Igbuzor, international head of campaigns at ActionAid, told IPS. "The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations has estimated that what is needed to deal with the challenges of the food crisis is 30 billion dollars every year."

And what, again, when the G8 takes away more than it can give. Hunger is on the rise because the EU and the U.S. want biofuels, Igbuzor said. "Production of agro-fuel is increasing because of EU and U.S. subsidies, and the EU target for fuel from agro sources. There must be a stoppage of subsidies and targets on agro-fuel." Twenty million hectares of fertile land in Africa, he said, has been given to corporations from Europe and the U.S., "and all of these are swelling the food crisis."

So it's not all quite adding up: not words with numbers, not claims with records, not aid with what is being taken.

quarta-feira, 1 de julho de 2009


Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Sanjay Suri

LONDON (IPS) - The G8 leaders meeting early July must address a crisis resulting from a sharp decline in investment in agriculture, Oxfam demands in a new study.

More than a billion people are now hungry, and food prices have begun to rise again, threatening multitudes of poor people, the report points out.

"Total global investment, in bilateral and multilateral assistance, has declined 75 percent since the 1980s," Emily Alpert, author of the Oxfam report told IPS in an interview from Hong Kong.

The under-investment over decades has increased vulnerability of many to market and climatic shocks, she said. And the need to act is immediate, she said. "Investment in agriculture brings slow returns; it can have a long payoff time. Increasing investments today will not bring the desired results immediately."

The report, 'Investing in Poor Farmers Pays: Rethinking How to Invest in Agriculture' released Tuesday, says that two-thirds of the world's rural poor have been overlooked by what little investments have been made.

Oxfam is calling on leaders of the G8 (the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia) to raise agricultural development assistance back to at least 1980 levels of around 20 billion dollars a year, from the 5 billion dollars at present.

"National investment has followed suit, except in rich countries and in a handful of developing countries such as China, India and Brazil," Alpert told IPS.

Among the rich, the report notes that in 2007 alone, EU agricultural spending was 130 billion dollars, and in the U.S. 41 billion dollars.

"A substantial increase in long-term agriculture investments is loose change compared to ongoing investments in rich countries or the trillions of dollars spent globally this year on the financial bail-out," Alpert said in a statement earlier. "Strengthening the agricultural sectors of developing countries is a crucial part of the long-term solution to the world's food, financial and climate crises."

The Oxfam report urges donors, national governments and private sector investors to invest more and more wisely in developing country agriculture, targeting investments towards people, particularly women, to encourage and support social and knowledge capital and enabling them to adopt environmentally sustainable farming methods.

"Women are key to food security," Alpert said. "Investing equitably in women's needs and building their capacity to productively engage in agriculture must be at the forefront any solution to improve agricultural growth and reduce poverty."

Oxfam says donor funding must be predictable, transparent and untied. The agency also cautioned the use of any "one size approach", and said investments must be tailored to the conditions of specific locations, participatory and demand-driven.

Special attention must be paid to farmers and herders in marginalised land, who often work in harsh and remote environments with inadequate access to markets and services for extension, credit and farming inputs, and fewer off- farm sources of employment, the report says.

"Such farmers and herders shoulder the burden of conserving crop biodiversity and managing some of the world's most fragile soils and could be critical allies in the fight against climate change."

Alpert said that despite perceived low returns on investing in marginalised areas by donors and the private sector, investing in developing country agriculture pays for itself by reducing poverty. "A healthy agricultural sector acts as a multiplier in local economies, leading eventually to higher wages and vibrant rural markets where farmers and workers spend their earnings."

The crisis is here already, Alpert told IPS. "We are already seeing the impact of food price rise on poor people, which is at least in part due to lack of investment in agriculture. The more you increase productivity, the more food there will be for poor people, who spend 50 to 80 percent of their income on food." (END)

terça-feira, 30 de junho de 2009


Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Francis Kokutse

ACCRA (IPS) - There are conflicting signals about whether west African countries will sign an economic partnership agreement (EPA) with the European Union, as the original deadline of Jun 30 has been postponed and stakeholders hold different views on the new deadline of end Oct. This may still allow Ghana to re-think its interim EPA.

At a Jun 22 meeting of the leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Abuja, Nigeria, a new deadline for the signing of the EPA was set for the end of Oct this year. But Cheikh Tidiane Dieye, a Senegalese trade activist, believes this new date is also likely to be missed.

Dieye told journalists at a workshop last week in Senegal that he was sure that negotiations would probably continue until Jan 2010 since both the European Union (EU) and ECOWAS have not agreed on the market percentages to be liberalised.

He said the contending issues between ECOWAS and EU was that west Africa is proposing 60 percent liberalisation of its markets while the EU wants 80 percent. "There are still a lot of issues to deal with. I do not see ECOWAS signing the EPA in October," he stressed, according to the Ghana News Agency.

Amadou Niang, Senegal's minister of commerce, called for a "social" approach to the EPA negotiations and that the talks should involve civil society, since the decisions taken in the agreement would have political, social and economic effects on people.

The extension of the ECOWAS-EU talks on the EPA has given Ghana, which has signed an interim EPA with the EU, an opportunity to reconsider. The government can now think through what some civil society groups claim is not in the national interest.

The agreement is a problem for the new government which had won an election and come to power after the interim EPA was signed.

The EU took to negotiate individual interim EPAs with Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire after resistance from the rest of the west African region.

Emmanuel Awuri, acting director of policy planning, evaluation and monitoring in the ministry of trade, told IPS in the capital of Accra that, "the government of Ghana can therefore hold on to ECOWAS's decision" while a decision is taken.

Awuri indicated that another option has opened up to Ghana under the present circumstances "to appeal to the EU" to give the government that inherited the agreement time to study it before deciding whether to accept it.

While the government think through what to do, civil society organisations led by Third World Network Africa (TWN Africa) insist that, "the interim agreement was at variance with the manifesto of the current government in power and therefore there is the need for a review of (the EPA)."

Tetteh Hormeku, TWN Africa's head of programmes, told IPS, "our understanding is that the agreement was just initialled and therefore did not have any legal binding until it was signed. Based on this, we drew the attention of the new government to take a closer look at the document." TWN Africa is the Ghana-based secretariat of TWN, an international non-governmental organisation doing research and promoting equitable distribution of world resources and ecologically sustainable development.

The EU has given directives to its customs department to allow countries that had initialled the interim agreement to import duty free and quota free. According to Awuri, this is a partial implementation of the terms under the agreement by the EU.

But scrapping import duties on goods from the EU "will substantially reduce the revenue that the government earns, resulting potentially in budget deficits and affecting resource allocation to social sectors such as education and health," Hormeku stated.

Awuri retorted that "there are other areas where the EU is to assist countries that signed the agreement. It is therefore not an all-lose affair."

But Hormeku disagreed: "The elimination of high duties will lead to the collapse of domestic infant industries which compete with cheap and heavily subsidised imports from the EU.

"Many authoritative studies, including those of the World Bank, concluded that a high level of liberalisation of trade with the EU made countries like Ghana stand the chance of destroying 60 percent of their local production."

Another area of the interim agreement that Hormeku finds damaging is the issue of the removal of export duties on scrap metal to the EU. Presently, there is an export tax to discourage the export of scrap in order to make it available to local manufacturers to produce simple farm implements for the poor in agriculture.

Already, there has been a sudden growth in the export of scrap metal to the disadvantage of local small-scale producers.

The TWN has also expressed misgivings on the rule of origin article in the interim EPA under which access to the EU market is only guaranteed if goods originate in Ghana.

Hormeku says, "a Ghanaian tuna producer cannot use fish from Togo that has been canned in Ghana for the EU market. This could create a difficulty not only for current production but for future economic development, especially for industrialisation prospects in cases where Ghana sources products for processing from its neighbours."

Finally, Awuri acknowledged that, "from a technical point, the government could go ahead with the signing of the interim agreement. However, there are political undercurrents, meaning that the government has to weigh different considerations in order to take a decision." (END)

segunda-feira, 29 de junho de 2009

G8: Itália suspende acordos de Schengen

A cimeira do G8 terá lugar no quartel da academia de polícia de AquilaO governo italiano anunciou a reposição dos controlos fronteiriços e a suspensão dos acordos de livre circulação de pessoas até dia 15 de Julho. Berlusconi quer impedir a entrada de manifestantes estrangeiros para a cimeira do G8, repetindo o que fez em 2001 na cimeira de Génova.

Desta vez, a cimeira do G8 decorre entre os dias 8 a 10 de Julho na cidade atingida pelo terramoto no início de Abril, que provocou 300 mortos. Berlusconi transferiu o local da reunião, inicialmente prevista para a Sardenha. Apesar dos receios sobre as condições oferecidas pela localidade para acolher os chefes dos Estados mais poderosos do mundo, o governo italiano garantiu que o quartel da academia de polícia estará preparado para a cimeira.

A polémica estalou igualmente quando Berlusconi afirmou não acreditar "que os antiglobalistas tenham coragem de organizar manifestações violentas nesta região afectada pelo terramoto". O conselho regional da Refundação Comunista respondeu ao primeiro-ministro italiano, dizendo que "os antiglobalistas chegaram à zona do desastre ao mesmo tempo que a Guarda Civil, e em muitos sítios chegaram antes", referindo-se às centenas de voluntários dos centros sociais, ONG's e da própria Refundação que organizaram a assistência aos desalojados. A cantina do campo de refugiados de San Bagio foi mesmo baptizada logo no primeiro dia de "cantina Carlo Giuliani", em homenagem ao activista morto pela polícia na cimeira de Génova em 2001.

Nos últimos meses, as reuniões sectoriais de ministros dos países do G8 sobre ambiente e agricultura, universidade e economia têm contado com a oposição de grupos ligados à esquerda política e centros sociais. Nas manifestações e acções de protesto, os organizadores alertaram para a construção de um clima mediático alarmista que parte do governo de Berlusconi, identificando os grupos antiglobalização como terroristas, à semelhança do que sucedeu em Génova e que serviu de justificação para a repressão e infiltração policial nos grupos de activistas.

A justiça italiana demorou sete anos para julgar os crimes cometidos em Génova, acabando por condenar treze polícias e guardas prisionais, junto com dois médicos por maus-tratos a pessoas detidas nas manifestações e levadas para um centro de detenção. Outros treze polícias acabaram condenados pelo raide policial ao centro de comunicações que funcionava numa escola em Génova, que provocou dezenas de ferido. Nenhum dos condenados cumpriu pena de prisão e muitos dos polícias acusados, entre os quais os oficiais superiores, foram absolvidos pelo tribunal, apesar do próprio responsável da polícia de Génova ter admitido que "plantou" os cocktails molotov para incriminar os activistas e justificar o assalto à escola. Pietro Troiani admitiu igualmente que o esfaqueamento de um polícia, que foi repetidamente transmitido pelos media, foi afinal uma simulação.

sexta-feira, 26 de junho de 2009


Friday, 26 June 2009

Thalif Deen

NEW YORK (IPS) - As the world's poorer nations warn about the gravity of the global financial crisis on their fragile economies, the United Nations has exposed the hypocrisy of Western donors who cry poverty even while they raise trillions of dollars to rescue their beleaguered financial institutions.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned that the current financial meltdown should not be an excuse to slash development aid or marginalise developing nations, specifically the world's 49 least developed countries (LDCs) - ranging from Bhutan and Benin to Sierra Leone and Solomon Islands.

The United Nations Millennium Campaign, which is battling to help eradicate extreme poverty and hunger worldwide, points out that since the inception of overseas development assistance almost 50 years ago, donor countries have given some 2.0 trillion dollars in aid.

And yet over the past year, 18 trillion dollars has been found globally to bail out banks and other financial institutions.

"The stark contrast between the money dispersed to the world's desperately poor after 49 years of painstaking summits and negotiations and the staggering sums found virtually overnight to bail out the creators of the global economic crisis makes it impossible for governments to any longer claim that the world can't find the money to help the 50,000 people who are dying of extreme poverty every day", says Salil Shetty, director of the Millennium Campaign.

The amount of total aid over the past 49 years represents just 11.0 percent of the money found for financial institutions in one year, he added.

Addressing the three-day UN summit on the global financial crisis Wednesday, the secretary-general reinforced the same argument.

The annual aid to the crisis-stricken continent of Africa, he said, was at least 20 billion dollars below the promises made by the leaders of the industrial world in Gleneagles, Scotland back in 2005.

"Surely, if the world can mobilise more than 18 trillion dollars to keep the financial sector afloat, it can find more than 18 billion dollars to keep commitments to Africa," Ban said.

The challenge to the industrial world will come up once again at a summit meeting of the G8 countries - the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Canada and Russia - in L'Aquila, Italy Jul. 8-10.

"We need clear priorities," Ban told the UN summit. "That is why I have just sent a letter to G8 leaders urging concrete commitments and specific action to renew our resolve."

A 16-page outcome document, to be adopted by political leaders Friday, says the evolving crisis, which began within the world's major financial centres, has spread throughout the global economy, causing severe social, political and economic impacts.

"This crisis is negatively affecting all countries, particularly developing countries, and threatening the livelihoods, well-being and development opportunities of millions of people," the draft says.

The bottom line: millions of people all over the world are losing their jobs, their income, their savings and their homes.

The document specifically says that developing countries, "which did not cause the global economic and financial crisis, are nonetheless severely affected by it."

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says the economic meltdown has resulted in 100 million more people going hungry, with the total number of the world's starving population reaching over one billion this year.

The World Bank projects a finance gap of up to 700 billion dollars, desperately needed by developing nations, with the possibility of a "lost generation", resulting in added deaths of 1.5 to 2.8 million infants by 2015.

Asked why rich countries keep ignoring the pleas of the world's poorer nations while they bail out banks and other financial institutions, Shetty of the UN Millennium Campaign told IPS: "The leaders in rich countries don't face any short-term political consequences by not acting on the needs and aspirations of poor people living in poor countries."

He said the only long-term solution is to build public support through sustained public education on these issues in rich countries.

"The decision-makers in rich countries don't see the same self-interest and mutuality as they now see in climate change, swine flu/pandemics, the so-called war against terror and to a lesser extent in trade on which the need for multilateral action has become painfully clear," he added.

Shetty pointed out they did realise the possible consequences in the case of Eastern Europe, where they live physically next to poor countries.

"They forget that there is less than 10 miles of water separating Europe from Africa," he noted.

Asked if developing nations, who are now part of G20, have a role to play in convincing their rich partners to respond to the call, Shetty said: "Yes, like climate change the growing economic importance particularly of China has certainly rebalanced the highly asymmetric power relations between rich and poor countries."

The members of the G20 are the finance ministers and central bank governors of 19 countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, plus the European Union.

Shetty said: "The challenge we now face is to make sure that the BRICs (Brazil, India and China) themselves don't forget the 49 least developed countries (LDCs), as they bargain for a better deal for themselves with the richest countries."

"Otherwise, we could be back to the historic game of divide and rule," he stressed.

Shetty also said it is crucial that the emerging nations continue to place the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the forefront of their negotiations at the G8 in Italy in two weeks time and the G20 in September in the United States.

quinta-feira, 25 de junho de 2009

Managing World Wat

Picture Credit: Water Encyclopedia
A water crisis is threatening the world. Millions of people have no access to safe drinking water and suffer from water-born diseases. The author of this article criticizes the principal policy-making venue, the World Water Forum, with its pro-privatization stand. Privatization turns water into a commodity and abolishes water as a human right. Without public control, poor people will not have access to clean water and sanitation.

By Daniel Moss

June 3, 2009

With climate change deepening the water crisis, wonky discussions of how to manage our water systems are suddenly attracting increased public attention. "Unlike oil, there's no substitute for fresh water," says Maude Barlow, senior advisor on water to the president of the United Nations General Assembly. "We all need it."

This recognition of the indispensability of water has raised the profile of groups arguing for treating water as a common good. In recent years across Latin America and Africa, consumer, human rights, and environmental organizations have campaigned successfully on referenda for constitutional amendments and laws enshrining water as a human right. At the recent World Water Forum, 25 countries signed an alternative declaration affirming that right (the official declaration weakly suggested that it was simply a human need). Here in the United States, a bi-partisan group of Vermont legislators working with the citizen's group, Vermont Natural Resources Council, co-sponsored legislation to protect that state's groundwater. The 2008 law declares groundwater a public trust and requires industries to acquire permits for withdrawals of over 56,000 gallons a day.

Yet it remains an uphill battle to shift the narrative, policies, and laws to ensure that water is managed as a commons and a human right. This work is made more difficult by the fact that the principal forum for global water policy discussions is not the UN but the World Water Forum, a mostly pro-privatization, tri-annual gathering of government delegations, non-governmental organizations, international financial institutions, and private industry representatives. It is convened by the World Water Council, a French non-profit whose board of governors is dominated by water privateers.

Full Cost Recovery

At the latest World Water Forum meeting from March 16 to 22nd in Istanbul, neoliberal water-management prescriptions varied little. Whether discussing the Parisian water system or South African townships, the prescription was the same: full cost recovery. In other words, agencies that provide water must recover the full costs associated with delivering the service. Increasingly pro-water-privatization development agencies, such as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), are insisting that consumers pay more for water.

Full cost recovery policy is immoral, claim organizers of the People's Water Forum - a parallel gathering advocating for water to be managed as a commons for all rather than a commodity for profit. Moreover, such a corporate strategy lacks creativity and is applied only selectively. That is, poor users who consume the least amount of water bear a disproportionate burden. Instead, progressive taxation programs could support public water systems just as they do public schools.

Consider the example of the Finnish company Botnia, operating in Uruguay. Its production of cellulose products consumes 80 million liters of water per day, using a large percentage of the daily output of Uruguay's public utilities at a low, subsidized price. Similar regressive anti-conservation subsidies are found throughout the world - especially in the United States - where irrigation water is priced far below cost, a boon for water intensive agribusinesses and a blow to family farmers. Unlike air, it costs money to deliver water, so we must put a price on its management while taking care not to turn the water itself into a commodity. But the largest users - and the wealthiest users - should pay their fair share and subsidize consumption for the world's poorest families.

For the average person simply concerned about getting water to those who need it, this polarization in water management strategies may well be confusing. How is one to judge which water policies are effective and which are wrong-headed? When two water conferences recently faced off in Istanbul - the industry-backed World Water Forum and the activist People's Water Forum - the debate highlighted these stark tensions. But the discussion, in identifying some common ground, also took hopeful steps forward.

Another Water World Is Possible

Around the world, both activists and government officials have challenged the way we think about water. In Bangladesh and Brazil and through public-public partnerships around the world, public water utilities are seeking out public loans rather than private equity to improve water delivery infrastruc­ture. These public utilities seek to learn together to overcome management, engineering, and financial obstacles. They are bucking the privatization trend, refusing development bank financ­ing when conditioned on the privatization of their utilities.

Such innovative financing approaches go hand in hand with new approaches to water management. Local authorities in Rajasthan, India, for instance, are organizing water governance around natural contours - the world's river basins. There, the citizens group Tarun Bharat Sangh constructs johads, earthen small-scale reservoirs that help to harvest rainwater and improve the recharge of groundwater resources. In Rajasthan, as well as newly enshrined in the Ecuadoran constitution, citizens view water not just as a human right but as a right of the earth.

Maude Barlow suggests 10 principles to create and manage a water commons. The principles are broad ranging, from applying human rights and public trust law to ensuring conservation and improved public delivery. She, too, sees privatization of water supplies as antithetical to this notion of the commons. She cites the case of Felton, California, which has taken back its public water system from a failed privatization experience. Further south, through trial and error, Cochabamba, Bolivia is experimenting with community-managed water utilities to deliver quality water at fair prices. In South Africa, communities have rejected pre-paid water meters and pricing schemes that undermine families' water security.

Adriana Marquisio, president of Uruguay's water workers union, insists that public water management must be improved but is equally adamant that water remain a public good. She calls for measuring efficiency not just in terms of liters per second but through public oversight over water fees and system improvements, public health indicators, innovations in community management, and the ecological health of groundwater reserves.

Flawed U.S. Policy

A principal U.S. policy tool for solving the world water crisis is the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2009. This act builds on a similar law signed by President Bush in 2005. The bill seeks to provide "100 million of the worlds poorest with sustainable drinking water and sanitation by 2015." Operationally, the proposed law establishes an Office of Water within USAID, an agency that embodies the entrepreneurial and privatizing spirit associated with shrinking the public sector.

If passed, the Water for the World Act will further enable the role of private investment in public drinking and wastewater infrastructure in developing nations, according to Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch. "Water privatization has proven a commercial failure in most countries around the world because private companies have, time and again, proven incapable of meeting their obligations to both their customers and their shareholders," she argues. "Reinforcing the role of private investment in the water infrastructure systems of developing countries will only perpetuate the problems that this well-intended act is designed to solve. Instead, we must work with developing countries to implement sound water policies based on public management of this essential resource."

In reports to Congress, USAID largely measured its success in implementing the Simon water acts by the amount of dollars spent on water systems. Investments in extending service and repairing ailing infrastructure are certainly critical. In this time of financial crisis, these ought to be a core part of public spending programs to reactivate the global economy. However, it matters a great deal how the money is spent, with what oversight and based on what political agenda. Certainly, the recent damage caused by channeling public monies to poorly regulated mortgage companies ought to offer pause about a similar strategy for water. These funds must be channeled to local governments and public utilities (with no strings attached mandating privatization) and to non-governmental organizations working on community-led, commons-based water strategies.

The Obama administration's performance at the World Water Forum was lackluster. It did not sign the alternative declarations to declare water a human right or seek to move policy deliberations to the UN. Whether the administration's plate is too full to pay attention or it is intentionally, repeating the Bush administration's poor stewardship of the globe's natural resources is still unclear.

In his inaugural address, President Obama promised to the world's people "to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow." So there is hope that the administration has been too busy to give this important issue proper attention. But hope is a poor substitute for action. It is still early on in the new administration, time enough to press for change. That change will happen when citizens insist that water debates are public debates about how to best manage our common water resources.