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Walk the Talk: From Marseille to Rio, Together

by Mary Ann Manahan — April 27, 2012

The social movement and civil society-organized summit process of hammering out a final declaration is quite different from the pre-drafted statements we normally get out of official forums. Take the case of the Alternative World Water Forum (FAME) that took place from March 14-17 in Marseille, France. On April 22, more than a month after the forum, FAME organizers released the final declaration of the participants.

Finding common ground

The draft declaration was crafted by a group of volunteer individuals representing different organizations and movements from various regions and sectors and was presented at the closing plenary session. Expectedly, the draft was heatedly debated; at the core of the discussions were issues of language and inclusion, philosophy and ethics of participation and representation. With a huge number of participants coming from all around the world wanting to include their own issue, the declaration became an arena of contestation. This meant that real democracy and participation were at work. But with limited time for debate and with no consensus in sight (which made the closing session rather anti-climactic), the organizers promised a process to unwrap what happened and to incorporate all relevant concerns and issues in the statement. The latter was crucial in ensuring that the water justice movement “walk the talk” and practice what we preach.

Similarly, the France Libertés forum, Water, People and the Planet, held on March 9-10, distributed its own statement on water last week. While the organizers had a pre-drafted declaration, the statement which came out of the forum was different and reflected a more critical analysis on the global water crisis, a strong stance against the privatization and commodification of water and the role of water multinationals, and progressive demands by the participants for a new model of water governance that puts people and nature before profit.

Toward Rio +20

Both declarations are useful in the run-up to Rio+20, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development to take place on June 20-22, 2012 in Rio de Janeiro 20 years after the historic Earth Summit. There is no doubt that Rio+20 will be a crucial event for determining the level of ambition and the direction of inter-governmental policies to tackle the environmental, social, economic and development crises that we face today. Rio+20 is set to be a very important political opportunity to address these crises; one which the water justice movement is already critically engaged in. Rio+20, therefore, highlights the collective aspiration to search for new models of development to address the multiple crises that we face today and to take stock of the progress made since the Earth Summit.

The most intense discussion in the preparatory process is around the ‘green economy’ agenda promoted by UNEP, a concept that could potentially replace ‘sustainable development’ as the dominant discourse. The declarations from the FAME and France Libertés forums criticized the market-based approach being promoted by the green economy, which assigns private property rights to nature, including water. Leaving water and nature to the market would undermine the opportunities of communities and states to protect nature and water as a commons. The two declarations emphasized not only the collective resolve to rethink the dominant market-driven model of water management and governance, which has failed for the last 20 years, but also concrete alternatives and a new vision to achieve the “future we want”.

If you are dreaming of a better world, of a new model of water management and of a people-centred Rio+20 rather than a corporate-driven one, join us in signing on to these statements and help spread the word.




People, Planet and Water : Water is not a commodity, it is a common good that belongs to Humanity and all life

Eau, Planète et Peuples: L’eau n’est pas une marchandise, c’est le bien commun de l’Humanité et du Vivant

Agua, Planeta y Pueblos : El agua no es una mercancía, es el bien común de la Humanidad y de los Seres Vivos

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Mary Ann Manahan is a research-campaigner with Focus on the Global South, Philippines, since 2003. She was part of the drafting committee of the France Libertés forum and a member of the FAME core group as well as committees that worked on plenary sessions on Rio+20 and the financialization of nature, and on the future of the water movement. Focus was co-coordinator of the climate change and Rio+20 theme at FAME.