Under Water

Last year’s World Water Forum (WWF), held in Turkey, was included in the book Censored 2010: The Top 25 Censored Stories of 2008-09 (Seven Stories Press) as one of the most under-reported important stories of 2009. Certainly the topic—the fate and future of the world’s dwindling water supplies—was worthy of significant coverage; as were the violent clashes that happened outside the forum’s doors, where activists protesting the privatization of water were themselves blasted with water cannons by Turkish police.

The number whose very lives rest on international water policies is staggering: 1.4 billion people worldwide lack access to clean drinking water; 2.6 billion lack access to sanitation. Yet, as Jeff Conant, the former director of international programs for Food & Water Watch who sat in on the last WWF writes in this issue’s cover story, water was defined as a “human need,” not a “human right” by government leaders in attendance. The semantics make a big difference—a need does not mean governments must ensure access; a right does. Leading the opposition to declaring water a human right were the ministers of Brazil, Egypt and the U.S.

Conant’s piece looks at the struggles between corporate entities and citizens to control their water; as well as simple conservation solutions to combat the water crisis. There are many allies in the international fight for clean water—and many ways to support those causes.

That’s discussed in a related feature on how Earth Day Network has taken up the water challenge via its Global Water Network. Earth Day turns 40 on April 22, but its Global Water Network is only in its second year of connecting people with water and sanitation projects across the globe. Conscious companies are taking up the call for action, too. Aveda has partnered with Global Greengrants Fund to direct money raised through special candle sales and fundraisers to water projects in places like Morocco, where the company sources its ingredients. The issue also takes a look at oil and gas exploration in New York via drilling in the Marcellus Shale, and the legacy of chemical wastewater that would leave behind. And for conserving water at home, we examine strategies for using gray water in the House & Home column. Let’s focus on water this Earth Day, and begin taking note of what we use, who owns it and how to best protect it. Perhaps then we can set the stage for a 2012 World Water Forum that gets the coverage it deserves.