“The increased interest of corporate organizations in the World Water Forum has a tendency to discourage civil society’s participation in addressing the water crisis,” said Dinesh Suna, coordinator of the Ecumenical Water Network (EWN) of the World Council of Churches upon his return from the 7th World Water Forum, which concluded on 17 April in Daegu and Gyeongbuk, Republic of Korea.
Suna said that “alternate forums”, which used to be a space for more critical dissent especially against policies related to privatization and commodification of water, simply were absent this year. “Interestingly, the organizers ‘co-opted’ alternate processes and provided a separate space to hold the Citizen’s Forum. The results from the Citizen’s Forum influenced some outcome documents but not in a major way,” he said.
Suna said that since its inception in 2007, the EWN had always been present at the World Water Forum and some of its founding members have been participating in it since the first forum was held. The EWN is a network of churches and ecumenical organizations promoting the preservation, responsible management and the equitable distribution of water for all as a basic human right.
Based on his participation in the conversation in Daegu, Suna critiqued the role of corporate organizations. “The ‘solutions’ offered by corporate organizations to solve the water crisis are problematic, as they do not incite a radical change in life styles essential to bring about a positive change. In any case, corporate organizations are largely responsible for the water crisis; they claim to bail out communities offering solutions that actually benefit them more than others,” Suna said.
He went on to say that the nexus between corporate organizations and political leaders must be questioned as these entities often collaborate when it comes to commodifying water sources.
Suna said that science and technology, major themes at the forum, are important to consider as we address the global water crisis. He noted that, on one hand, corporate entities buy out water resources, depriving the communities access to safe drinking water – and, on the other hand, they try to sell various water purification models to governments and communities. He said this shows that instead of mending their own ways, corporate organizations merely use a business model to address the global water crisis, which is not helpful.
“These issues are often neglected by governments, especially in developing countries, as a result of which the communities suffer,” Suna added.
A significant point made by Suna at the World Water Forum was related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). He said water issues have found a place on the proposed SDGs, yet a substantial human rights language is missing there. “As churches we are trying our best to insist that drinking water and sanitation must be treated as fundamental issues of human rights as part of the SDGs,” he said.
The World Water Forum is the world’s largest water event, which this year brought more than 40,000 participants from 168 countries to the Republic of Korea. The event has been organized by the World Water Council once in every three years since 1997 in cooperation with the public and private sectors, academia, civil society organizations and industries. The next World Water Forum will be held in Brazil in 2018.