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Water Activists Converge in New Delhi - 2004-01-15

Activists from around the world vowed to create a movement against privatizing public water systems at a three-day meeting in the Indian capital. The meeting in New Delhi brought together about 600 activists concerned about public water systems being handed over to private companies.

The activists came from 60 developed and developing countries under the banner of the "People's World Water Forum."

These activists are worried that international trade agreements will allow private companies to take over public water systems, especially in developing countries. They say corporations usually charge higher prices than governments, and as a result, poor communities often end up without adequate water and sewage services. They cite the Bolivian city of Cochabama, where about three years ago, masses of people protested a rise in water rates after the public water system was privatized.

Tony Clarke, Director of the Canada-based Polaris Institute, says it is critical for governments and communities to maintain control over water because it a basic need and must not be treated like a commodity. "Something as important, as critical to life like that [water] can't be left to the marketplace," he says. "This is something that should be held in the common, something that should be distributed through public systems."

According to the People's World's Water Forum, corporations often encourage consumption among those who can pay in order to increase profits.

An India activist, Vandana Shiva, says conservation is the best way to ensure people throughout the world have enough water. "Conservation is the place to solve the water crisis," she says. "Conservation is based on mobilizing the public at large, communities, especially rural communities to take water in their charge."

According to United Nations estimates, about 1.3 billion people in the world lack access to clean water, while another 2.5 billion do not have adequate sewage and sanitation services.

Those who favor privatization of water systems say many governments do not have the funds to deliver services, and global companies will invest the necessary money to develop modern public water systems.