Tuesday, 17 March 2009

WORLD WATER FORUM STARTS WITH PROTESTS AND PREDICTIONS

By JULIA DAY, STEPS Centre member

The fifth World Water Forum got off to an explosive start in Istanbul, Turkey, yesterday with riot police using tear gas to disperse hundreds of demonstrators and campaigners being deported while dire predictions about the world's water supply were made. Photo credit: International Rivers banner at World Water Forum / Nature

The World Water Forum, a seven-day event bringing together an estimated 20,000 delegates,"aims to raise the importance, awareness and understanding of water issues and propose concrete solutions to address global challenges", according to organiser World Water Council event website.

But at the opening ceremony, a protest by two campaigners, Payal Parekh and Ann-Kathrin Schneider, from the California-based campaign group International Rivers set the tone for a difficult first day. The pair were arrested and deported after unfurling a banner reading ‘No Risky Dams’ at the opening ceremony of the World Water Forum, according to Nature's blog, The Great Beyond.

The forum is held only every three years, and this time round anti-riot police were called in to break up a gathering of around 300 demonstratorswho were heading to the venue buildings.

According to news agency AFP: "Protesters, whose rally had been called by unions, environmentalists, and leftist organisations, responded to tear gas by hurling rocks and beating officers with sticks.

They chanted slogans such as 'water is people, it's life, it's not for sale," and "we want to crush this forum which wants to take our water'. "

Meanwhile the dire predictions about the state of the world's water resources began rolling in. Loic Fauchon, president of the World Water Council said humanity was squarely to blame for wasting the precious stuff of life.

"We are responsible," he said. "Responsible for the aggressions perpetrated against water, responsible for the current climate changes which come on top of the global changes, responsible for the tensions which reduce the availability of freshwater masses so indispensable to the survival of humanity."

He added: "At this very time in the history of water, we are faced with a major challenge to use more water resources but at the same time to protect, enhance the value of and even reuse these waters," Voice of America's website reported.

Anita McNaught, Al Jazeera's reporter in Istanbul, is filing daily dispatches from the World Water Forum. McNaught had an interesting conversation with Olcay Onver, head of the United Nation's world water assessment programme after the sobering UN report on the world's water supplies was released yesterday afternoon. Mr Onver admitted on air that one of the foremost problems the UN faced was getting adequate data on how bad the crisis really is.

"The reliable data in many places," Olcay Onver said "is really not there". So does that mean the situation is even worse than the UN says it is? "We don't really have enough data to tell," he replied.

The UN said that among the World Water Development Report 3 findings were: "Demand for water has never been as great as it is today, and it will only increase due to population growth and mobility, rising living standards, changes in food consumption, and increased energy production, especially biofuels."

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