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    Water forum opens with warning over shortages

2006-03-18 07:16

An international summit on global water supplies opened on Thursday with world leaders calling for solutions to shortages and inequalities in the most basic of commodities.

Organizers of the week-long forum said their goal was to improve water supplies for the poor. But opponents claimed their real mission was privatization.

"Water is a public possession that all governments must guarantee," Mexican President Vicente Fox said in his welcoming speech at the Mexico City convention centre, where 11,000 delegates and representatives of about 130 countries met behind closed doors.

But Loic Fauchon, president of the non-governmental World Water Council, told the fourth World Water Forum that the poor often struggle to obtain decent, affordable water.

"We must stop attempting to solve the problem of water supply on the basis of macroeconomic theories, abstract mathematical models, or inhuman restructuring plans," he said, calling for policies based on "feeling and solidarity."

Fauchon said developed countries should create a huge investment fund to finance water system improvements in the world's 50 poorest countries and 20 poorest mega-cities.

"Water is endangered, and with it, so are we all," Fouchon said, referring to increased pollution and eroded watersheds that are damaging water supplies as demand continues to climb.

That demand is growing particularly in developing countries, where many get by on less than 4.5 gallons of water per day.

But past efforts to remedy the problems have failed. Speaking at the summit opening, Prince Naruhito of Japan acknowledged that "little progress has been made despite continuous efforts by many people."

The poor often pay far more for their water today than they did when the first global water forum was held in Marrakech, Morocco, in 1997.

Many non-governmental organizations and environmental activists have complained about campaigns to privatize water systems, an approach meant to upgrade systems through private investment but that sometimes leads to rate increases.

Thousands of Bolivians protested at higher water fees after foreign companies took over water companies there. Seven people died, and the companies were forced out of the country.

Bottled water, on the other hand, has earned good profits and little attention.

"It's in some way a sort of a stealth privatization," said Janet Larsen, research director for the Earth Policy Institute, a private, Washington-based environmental group. Larsen noted that the biggest gains in bottled water sales are in developing countries.

(China Daily 03/18/2006 page6)


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