2016 UI Woman of Courage Briefs UNANIMA on the role of NGOs in the Global Water Crisis

At their recent meeting, the UNANIMA Board was joined by Meera Karunananthan (pictured at left with Jean Quinn) for the formal presentation of the 2016 Woman of Courage Award. In addition to expressing her gratitude for the honor of being recognized by a group of women of strong conviction, Meera graced the group with a presentation on her work as a defender of the human right to water. Meera shared that her passion for the defense of water was awakened when she learned of the Cochabamba Water War and thought it outrageous that something as precious as water could be commodified. She then began working for the Council of Canadians’ Blue Planet Project (BPP) alongside Maude Barlow, who is known for her victory in getting water named as a human right by UN in 2010.

When the NGO Mining Working Group (MWG) at the UN, of which UNANIMA is a member, needed support in their efforts to defend the human right to water within the text of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Maude referred the group to Meera. Meera was hesitant to step into the bureaucracy of the UN, but was quickly put at ease by the MWG’s integrity and willingness to put forth critical analysis and be uncompromising in its demands of the UN system. Together, Meera and the MWG had great success in bringing water to the forefront of a conversation where it had not existed before and securing a reference to “the human right to water and sanitation” into UN 2030 Agenda.

In addition to sharing this success story, Meera gave the group an update on the current status of the global water crisis. She explained that, at this moment in history, water shortage is increasingly being recognized as our biggest emerging humanitarian crisis.  Politicians approach this crisis by focusing on shortcomings in science and technology, activist groups like BPP approach it as a political problem and a product of poor decision-making, and corporations approach it as a threat to the perpetual growth model on which they rely and as a critical entry point for expansion of their influence in government. Several corporations with the greatest responsibility for water privatization on a global scale (Coca Cola, Dow Chemical, Nestle, etc.) have created consortium called the 2030 Water Resources Group, which is working through the World Bank to advocate for public-private partnerships (PPPs) that would expand corporate ownership of water resources, writing water policy that bases the value of water on its profitability rather than its intrinsic value, and proposing their policies to low-income States who are desperate for the financial investments those corporations can offer.

Moving forward, Meera stated, it will remain critical that groups like UNANIMA and other members of MWG keep a vigilant watch over this large-scale cooption of water resources at the UN. BPP is also leading a response at the local level through the Blue Communities Project, which circumvents the difficulty of getting national governments to recognize water as a human right and leverages the fact that local governments are actually responsible for management of water and sanitation. The Project’s organizers work with individual communities to get their local governments to commit to recognizing water as a human right; promoting publicly financed, owned and operated water and wastewater services; and banning the sale of bottled water in public facilities and at municipal events. The Project has already succeeded in 20 localities worldwide and sparked a parallel “Blue Churches Movement.” Meera closed by welcoming members of the UNANIMA network to act as ambassadors of this BPP project in their respective communities.