Water summit opens with calls to rebuild waters systems for poor nations
MEXICO CITY – Delegates from 130 nations opened a summit on global water supplies Thursday amid calls for massive donations to rebuild water systems in poor nations.Participants also hotly debated the developing world’s growing reliance on bottled water bought from private companies instead of on public water systems – which some call a form of privatization.About 10,000 protesters marched to the Mexico City convention center late Thursday where 11,000 representatives met to discuss ways to improve water supplies for the poor. Opponents claim the meetings are a cover for privatization.”We don’t want privatization because it will only serve as a business for someone,” said Cristina Hernandez, a 36-year-old housewife. “Services get more expensive with privatization, but not better.”Some protesters marched past rows of helmeted riot police chanting “Governments understand, water is not for sale!”Loic Fauchon, president of the non-governmental group the World Water Council, called on the forum to provide massive donations to rebuild water systems in the poorest nations and largest cities.”A lot of poor people are leaving their countries to go to rich countries,” Fauchon noted. “Isn’t it preferable, isn’t it cheaper, to pay so that these people have water, sewage, energy, to keep open the possibility for them to stay in their (own) countries?”He suggested the creation of a peacekeeping force – modeled after that of the U.N. – to deal with future conflicts over water.”We don’t want to override national governments, we just need a force that will take over in cases of water conflicts,” he said.Forum organizers also said they weren’t pushing privatization, but rather better water management.”Nobody is talking about privatizing a resource that is something inalienable, sovereign,” said Mexico’s Environment Secretary, Jose Luis Luege. Still, he said he strongly supported the idea of granting concessions for specific water projects to private firms.Luege noted that the biggest problem is bad drainage, water pipes and a lack of wastewater and drinking-water treatment, causing waterborne illnesses that he said would kill an estimated 3,900 children before the end of Thursday alone.While outright privatization of public water systems has been a hard sell since 2000 – when mass protests in Bolivia over rate increases forced out private water companies – the private sector earns much more now by selling bottled water to people in developing countries who often don’t have drinkable tap water.Sales of bottled water in China jumped by more than 250 percent between 1999 and 2004. They tripled in India and almost doubled in Indonesia, according to a study released by the institute. Worldwide, the industry is now worth about $100 billion per year.It’s not because people can suddenly afford the luxury. Instead, tap water in some countries is so bad that people are loath to use it, sometimes even for bathing.”You can’t even brush your teeth without fearing that you’re going to get who-knows-what infection,” said Javier Bogantes, director of the Latin American Water Tribunal.Fauchon acknowledged the problem; holding up a bottle of branded water – the only drinkable kind available at the forum – he said “this right here costs 200 to 400 times what tap water would.”——On the Net:http://www.worldwaterforum4.org.mx/home/home.aspVail, Colorado
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