Governments must take lead in providing safe drinking water, forum concludes |

Governments must take lead in providing safe drinking water, forum concludes

MEXICO CITY – Governments, not private companies, should take the lead in improving public access to safe drinking water, representatives of 148 countries said Wednesday at the end of a forum on improving global water supplies.The seven-day forum focused much of its attention on the developing world’s growing reliance on bottled water bought from private companies. Worldwide, the industry is now worth about $100 billion per year. Anti-corporate forces and other critics say governments should instead be improving tap water supplies.The forum’s declaration, adopted Wednesday, does not specifically mention privatization, but states that “governments have the primary role in promoting improved access to safe drinking water.”The declaration also described dams and hydroelectric projects – opposed by environmentalists for decades – as important and innovative.”(We) acknowledge the implementation and importance in some regions of innovative practices such as … the development of hydropower projects,” said the draft declaration, circulated in advance of the closing ceremony.Environmentalists oppose big dam projects – used to create hydroelectric power – because they can disrupt natural water sources and take up land. They say corporate interests, combined with an aggressive lobbying campaign by the World Bank, are pushing developing countries to build large dams.On Wednesday, United Nations officials presented a report warning about the effects of climate change and the need for more dams. The U.N. World Water Development Report, however, recommends small dams instead of big ones – or at least making the larger projects more environmentally friendly.”Many regions will likely need to increase water storage capacity in order to cope with (climate) change,” UNESCO official Walter Erdelen said at the same Mexico City hotel where government representatives met for the water forum.Almost everyone who spoke at the summit – from leading business figures to government officials – claimed they did not support handing local water authorities over to private administrators, which was done starting in the 1990s.Violent protests in countries including Bolivia and Guatemala have led private firms to withdraw from some contracts and to be more cautious about signing new ones. On Wednesday, about 2,000 protesters marched through Nicaragua’s capital, Managua, to demand the government improve its water service, not privatize it.But private companies have vastly increased their sales of bottled water in the developing world in recent years, in what some see as a sort of “stealth” privatization of water services in countries where the tap water is unsafe.Representatives of Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela and Uruguay issued a separate statement after approving the declaration, saying they had wanted it to guarantee water as a human right and protect water from being involved in free trade agreements.”We declare a profound concern regarding the possible negative impacts that international instruments such as free trade and investment agreements can have on water resources and reaffirm the sovereign right of every country to regulate water and all its uses,” said the statement from the nations, all run by leftist governments.In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said some 6,000 people, most of them children, die from water-related causes every day. He said the goal is to reduce by half the number of people without regular access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.The water forum is held every three years.Vail, Colorado

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