Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Behind Closed Doors!

Travelling on the train from Gothenburg I planned my diary and the meetings I wished to attend, assuming, naively as it turns out, that all meetings would be open to me should I want to go. Wrong! There are just as many closed and exclusive meetings as there are open. This has possibly something to do with the evolution of the World Water Week (WWW). From its early beginnings of being a technical conference looking for scientific solutions to water problems and issues until today where the Stockholm WWW has patently changed to be a more holistic affair, covering and discussing all areas of water. These Include governance and politics, financing, the environment - from climate change to water scarcity, discussions regarding particular georaphical areas and basins in diverse regions - from the Amazon to the Middle East, water’s importance to economic growth, the need for water to tackle poverty and of course science and technical innovation and much more.

One common theme is clearly emerging: the overarching worldview that sees the market and private sector and commodification of water as being the most effective and likely provider of solutions to water problems. Given the list of sponsors this is hardly surprising; it is indeed a rogue’s gallery. Nestle (the main sponsor), the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) – representing over 200 of the biggest companies in the world from Coca Cola to Suez and from Shell to Unilever - the World Economic Forum and the European Water Partnership are all hosting meetings. This corporate dominance and the dangers of the WWW, and indeed the wider world generally, taking this direction is something that we intend to highlight over the coming days.

We are well aware that any voices that differ are likely to be denounced as political dinosaurs with no understanding of the real world - yes Orwell is once again turning in his final resting place. This was illustrated during the High Level Panel Debate on Climate Change, Water and Vulnerability on Monday 13th. Apparently, one of the panel members, Prof Jorg Imberger of the University of Western Australia, dared have the temerity to speak of a more equal redistribution of resources and blamed climate change on, amongst other things, over-consumption. During the opening up to the floor for questions he was quickly labelled an old school Marxist and of having no understanding of economic theory! Though to be fair he also did receive a fair bit of applause, indicating that even within the narrow parameters of WWWW there is support for a fairer set of policies that dispute the dominant discourse here. Though, as one colleague said it was so unusual to here this alternative point of view that perhaps he got this response for being ‘refreshingly provocative’, rather than people necessarily agreeing with him.

Despite the built in corporate majority the small cadre of committed international and local activists in Stockholm are planning to make our voices heard in various ways. Having many of the meetings held behind closed doors has not helped in terms of having a say. These are obviously so important that the possibility of dissent is not even countenanced. The EUWI, the World Water Council, the WBCSD and the Water Integrity Network (WIN) are amongst those who are hosting closed door meetings. We can only wonder what’s being discussed; maybe there is a minute of them somewhere? Yes, and the proverbial animal of pork might take to the skies. One thing is for sure its not what they are going to have for dinner or their holiday plans that they are discussing.

It should be said that it is a development that has shown itself as extremely contradictory. Not least In the context of the public declarations by the WWC at the World Water Forum of having multi-stakeholder contributions and open input and debate during the planning for, and at, the next WWF in Istanbul in 2009; however diverse that input may be. The duplicity of their position is perhaps best summed up by the meeting to be held by WIN on Wednesday 15th when they are having a closed doors Donors meeting alongside their parent organisation: Transparency International. Yes when it comes to transparency, they obviously practice what they preach!

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