It's unbelievable to think that over 20,000 people traveled thousands of miles to hear shortsighted corporate spin.
Istanbul -- Now into its third day, the World Water Forum has an incredible police presence, and the security is downright oppressive. So much so that there are special VIP entrances and areas – including the restrooms. Yet despite the painstaking attention afforded to security, the forum is lax on certain other logistical details. Last night, one of the buildings that housed panel discussions and workshops did not have water for flushing the toilets or washing hands -- a sad but fitting metaphor for the inefficiencies of privatized water systems that the World Water Forum promotes.
Indeed, it is security, not access to water, that reigns as the top concern here. Forum attendees must have their access badges scanned at multiple security checkpoints. Our whereabouts are tracked throughout the forum, following which building we are in and what workshops we are going to. Security intervenes if we try to ask questions at panels or ask to present information that is contrary to what is being promoted. Even the bathrooms have security. What, do you suppose, are they so afraid of?
Earlier today, Maude Barlow and I were walking with two journalists when some VIPs were coming in the door from a fancy car and a woman shoved us aside, almost knocking Maude over. Being here gives one a sense of what its like to live in a police state where there is no freedom of speech.
Security is especially tight at the finance sessions. This is where the forum lays out its plans for profiting from water. Once we managed to get in, the corporate water barons enlightened us on the solutions to delivering water to the world's poorest populations -- which apparently is to get them to pay for the service. It's unbelievable to think that over 20,000 people traveled thousands of miles to hear such shortsighted corporate spin.
We did manage to voice our side of the debate at the Sustainable Financing panel, where I challenged a panel of speakers, including Jim Winpenny from the OECD Global Forum on Sustainable Development, on the merits of public-private financing for water infrastructure projects.
Despite these barriers, journalists are still interested in what we have to say and we will continue to advocate for clean, affordable water as a universal human right.
Wenonah Hauter is the executive director of Food & Water Watch. She has worked extensively on energy, food, water and environmental issues at the national, state and local level.
Activists against privatization plans at the forum were met with police aggression.
READ: World Water Forum diary
Anita McNaught, Al Jazeera's reporter in Istanbul, will be writing daily dispatches from the World Water Forum held in Istanbul from Monday, March 16 to Friday, March 20. http://english.aljazeera.net/focus/2009/03/200931991913230444.html
Campaigners vow to disrupt world water forum
Political leaders, specialists and activists will today attend a vast gathering in Istanbul officially aimed at averting an impending world water shortage but denounced by critics as a front for multinational companies seeking profits and promoting privatisation. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/mar/16/istanbul-water-forum
World Water Forum: the world's largest water event
The World Water Forum is the main water-related event in the world, aimed at putting water firmly on the international agenda. A stepping stone towards global collaboration on water problems, the Forum offers the water community and policy-and-decision-makers from all over the world the unique opportunity to come together to create links, debate and attempts to find solutions to achieve water security. It is organised every three year by the World Water Council, in collaboration with the host country. http://www.worldwaterforum5.org/index.php?id=1870&L=0