Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Feria Internacional del Agua begins

by Ruth Caplan. Posted April 17 at
Friday morning the gathering is in full swing with five groups meeting in tents and in the labor center where there is translation for the session on Water, Climate and Contamination. The session begins by Anil Nadoo from the Council of Canadians explaining why it is essential to keep water in the soil and in watersheds if we are to combat climate change. This fits into our work in Maine to keep water out of corporate hands and in the watersheds and communities.

Janet Redman with Institute of Policy Studies provided the historical perspective that the connection between water and climate change was made 20 years ago. She went on to critique the Clean Development Mechanism established as part of the Kyoto Protocol as establishing a carbon market which pays people in the Global South to compensate for the continuing pollution by people in the Global North, a kind of outsourcing. (Of course these terms are not just geographic for there is mining and industry in
countries in the southern hemisphere just as there are efforts to reduce carbon emissions by communities, states and countries in the northern hemisphere.) She also emphasized that the people most immediately impacted by climate change were shut out of the Copenhagen negotiations. The climate justice platform includes reparations for climate debt from north to south; the rights of all peoples; and that the carbon market is a false solution which is a form of privatizing the air, adding to our concern about water privatization.

The impact of climate change was then brought home dramatically by the report of how the melting glaciers in the Bolivian Andes is already impacting indigenous communities dependent on irrigation using water from the glaciers. The glaciers are now melting rapidly and not being replenished. How can there be a right to water when there is no water? How can there be a right to indigenous culture when these communities may be forced to become climate immigrants? In La Paz the water system is now public and workers have installed 3250 local systems in the last 2 months. Yet there is less rainfall. What will the poor do who can´t afford to buy bottled water? (Not mentioned until another session the next day was the development of new mines in the Alto Plato which consume huge quantities of water. What does this mean for the human right to water?)

False solutions were discussed including eucalyptus plantations which suck up huge quantities of water and cannot be used by rural communities for needed firewood and the World Bank´s promotion of mega hydro projects as a key source of renewable energy when most of this energy is used to fuel industry and displaces thousands of households.

In the end, water justice and climate justice must be pursued as two sides of one coin.

In the afternoon, we heard from the other working groups including the role of local communities in distributing water from cooperative water companies; the need to create strong legal frameworks for the right to water including Emily Posner describing the local water ordinances passed in Shapleigh and Newfield Maine; and difficult questions relating to regulations and autonomy to go beyond words to actual practices, such as
the use of water by the mining industry when water is to be treated as a commons.

This last theme was made graphically clear on Saturday during a session on Derechos Colectivos y Derechos de la Madre Tierre. Here the impact of mines on indigenous communities was made painfully clear. The El Alto indigenous economic system, ayllo, is simply not compatible with the pollution emanating from the mines which is polluting the water of mother earth. For a new copper mine, land was taken from the indigenous communities for building dykes without any consultation with the communities. Both violated the Bolivian Constitution. The pollution also violates the Constitutional protection of the right to water. So clearly the goals of economic development and fundamental rights are clashing in Bolivia. How do words on paper get translated into the practices of government is a question we must all grapple with.

The day ended with a session to prepare a statement to go to the climate conference, raising the fundamental question of how can there be climate justice in a world still following an economic model based on more and more consumption.

Before leaving, I checked out our quilt square project and noticed that many new squares are being made by people visiting our art show, El Agua is nuestra, ¡¡Carajo!!

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