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WATER WILL BECOME JUST ANOTHER PRODUCT TO BE BOUGHT AND SOLD ON A GLOBAL MARKET, KIND OF LIKE HONDAS OR LITTLE DEBBIE SNACK CAKES? natures on its various declarations, it did not, unfortunately, collect any cash. In clever, “liquid-y” language, observers of this process report that commitments are “diluted” and funding has “stagnated.” So who is responsible for the funds we’ll have to spend to get water to people who need it? Well, if we are going to have an Integrated Water Resource Management plan, then everyone must cooperate, right? The government, NGOs, private companies such as Suez, the EDF Group, and others. Get it? The World Water Forum said that water is a shared responsibility, and everyone must help. So if the UN is boldly stepping up to supply the targets and the measures, then the people with the capitalfor example the World Bank, multinational corporations, and governmentsshould cough up the funds. \(Let’s ignore for the moment the uncomfortable fact that these institutions have money because Despite our shared responsibility, it seems that the World Bank and the water multinationals have cut back their investments in water infrastructure and services, while waiting for their preferred international trade rules to, shall we say, fall into place at the World Trade Organization. Private companies, in particular, are not investing until they can be sure that their investments can be recovered, no matter what. In other words, until they can get the GATS to privilege them appropriately, they are not sharing. Suez, Bechtel, the EDF Group, and the like want taxpayers around the world to guarantee that they can make money on water concessions, contracts, and leases before they’ll invest. If they have their way, public water services will become private water markets where, for example, water quality may vary according to ability to pay, just like gasoline. I’m not kidding. We could get, for example, different concentrations of fecal matter in our water, according to whether we can afford regular, plus, or premium. And if the companies don’t get the returns they expect, they can sue the government for the difference. While these companies tolerate the blah, blah, transparency, blah, gover nance, blah, targets of the UN, they are actually working hard as hell over at the Word Trade Organization, where the real game is played. And once you get behind the closed doors at the World Water Forum and into the hospitality suites, you find the Action Decade in full swing on this front here too. Countries around the world \(including tems to resolve claims involving international investors more quickly and guarantee investor profits more securely. Governments are changing their laws to ensure that national legal systems conform to the terms of the developing trade agreements that cover public/private services, including water. The multinationals point to the hardship suffered by Suez in Argentina as an illustration of what can happen when the rules aren’t right for them. In 2002, after the Argentine economy collapsed, pitching half the population into poverty, Aguas Argentinas, a consortium of private water companies led by Suez, wanted to dramatically raise rates in the province of Buenos Aires. Under tremendous political pressure, the government held the line on water rates, and the consortium is now suing the government of Argentina for money it could have made, if it had raised the rates. In Bolivia, Bechtel ran aground in a similar dispute and virtually lost its suit against the government when its concession was yanked for exorbitant rate increases in Cochabamba. It seems, then, that despite the UN Report, water is not really a shared responsibility. It is a costly responsibility that water corporations want the public to assume in order to allow them to suck up profits. Fortunately for us, there is another side to this debate. Parallel to the World Water Forum last week, the social movements of Mexico hosted the International Forum in Defense of Water. The alternative Forum was kept far away from the official Forum, which was heavily guarded by hundreds of police in riot gear. According to Sara Grusky of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Food and Water Watch, who attended both the official and parallel Forums, the police seemed to expect the Defenders of Water to attack at any moment and maintained a tight perimeter with shields and weapons. The alternative Forum, meanwhile, drew over one thousand participants who used it to promote democratic, community-controlled water access and to demand that the World Trade Organization stay out of the water sector. The meeting drew up its own “Joint Declaration,” emphasizing that water is not merchandise. Explicitly, the alternative Forum declared “Water is a Human Right,” and pressured the UN to draw up an international convention reflecting this. Speakers pointed out that, without water, people die speedily, and governments therefore have a responsibility to provide water. This responsibility is not to be “shared” with private interests. The point is hard to contest. Few politicians want to go on record in favor of letting people die of thirst and disease for lack of water and sanitation. The APRIL 7, 2006 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17