Get the best of Commons Magazine — FREE!

January 19, 2009

Maude Barlow Becomes Water Advisor to UN

Barlow urges UN General Assembly to treat water as a human right.

Maude Barlow, the international water activist who has long fought for access to water as a basic human right, has been named a senior advisor on water issues to the President of the United Nations General Assembly. The appointment gives the outspoken Barlow a prominent platform for advancing the message that water is a commons to be shared by all, not a commodity to be allocated only to those with money.

The President of the United Nations General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, announced the appointment during the 60th anniversary celebration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Barlow — the national chairperson of the Council of Canadians and founder of the Blue Planet Project – will establish a new task force on water as a human right.

On December 10, Barlow gave a speech to the United Nations urging a change in international law “to settle once and for all the question of who controls water. It must be commonly understood that water is not first and foremost a commercial good, although of course it has an economic dimension, but rather, a human right and a public trust.” A full copy of the speech (pdf file) can be read here.”:http://www.canadians.org/about/Maude_Barlow/UN/NOTES_FOR_UN_PANEL_ON_EME.pdf

In her speech, Barlow told the UN General Assembly:

What is needed now is binding law to codify that states have the obligation to deliver sufficient, safe, accessible and affordable water to their citizens as a public service. While “water for all, everywhere and always” may appear to be self-evident, the fact is that there are many powerful forces, some private, some governmental, that have resisted this notion fiercely. So groups around the world are mobilizing in their communities and countries for constitutional recognition of the right to water within their borders, and at the United Nations for a full treaty that recognizes the right to water internationally….

Is water a common good like air, or a commodity like Coca-Cola? Who is being given the right or the power to turn the tap on or off – the people, governments, or the invisible hand of the market? Who sets the price for a poor district in Manila or La Paz – the locally elected water board or the CEO of a transnational corporation? The global water crisis cries out for good governance and good governance needs binding, legal bases that rest on universally applicable human rights.

At a press conference, Barlow was blunt in declaring that Coca-Cola’s claim to be water neutral is not credible, and that the UN’s Global Compact is little more than “blue-washing.” She also called Coke, Pepsi and Nestle “water hunters” who take water from aquifers and “put it in plastic and sell it all over the world.”