The fifth in a series of articles, D. Narasimha Reddy concludes that water must not be negotiated as a commodity.
August 2002: All resource shortages, especially water, burden the women more. This is particularly more for women in poor and marginalized sections. There is good evidence that the ways in which water is managed is highly gender specific, particularly in in rural and low income urban societies. This is turn has other impacts. Overloading the women drastically has a bad impact on their health, as they have to arrange for water for drinking and household purposes, which is usually available at a more distant place than the normal. Pregnant women or women with babies are often the worst hit. In these conditions, they are able to work in limited capacity, while needing increased nutrition. This requirement is seldom met even at normal times, then how can it be expected in a distress period? In a way, it can be said that the women are often the worst sufferers of calamities. All the additional costs have to be borne by them. From that point of view, privatisation would increase the load on these women. The governance of water is begging for reform. Reforms must factor the skills, experience and legitimacy of local people and communities, on recognition of the primacy of human needs and rights, and on sound understanding of ecosystems and river basin management. There is a need for targets and timetable for improvement. There is a need for substantial acceleration in the water investment programmes, and particularly in the regions where the problems are the most acute. There is a need for substantial increase in the levels of multilateral and bilateral assistance from the developed countries to assist this process. The process of community-based participation has to be supported. Access to information, as a prerequisite for participation in decision-making processes, is a fundamental right. Legal and institutional mechanisms must be put in place for the empowerment of communities to participate at all levels. Access to justice must be guaranteed. Water and water services must be removed from the General Agreement on Trade in Services and the agenda of the World Trade Organisation. The key to the sustainable provision of water for life is the maintenance and protection of the ecological integrity of all ecosystems. Degraded ecosystems have to be restored. A substantial increase in the levels of spending for clean water and sanitation for poor people and communities is required. Debt cancellation is essential for water security in poor countries. Water and sanitation services should be under the control of the local communities; the management of these services be participatory and transparent. For this reason, privatization needs to be completely rejected. The degree to which the gender perspective is mainstreamed must be a determining indicator of the success or failure of all future policies and actions. For many millions of people in the world the quest for clean water and the management of sanitation is not a joy of life. It is a daily struggle and burden to obtain water. Drought, shortages, pollution and unfair allocation of resources blight and prejudice the achievement of the right to access to water. The principles on which solutions should be based have been established and reaffirmed at every conference for the last ten years or more. But action and implementation drags along at a painfully slow pace, condemning millions to continue with non-existent or unsatisfactory water services and all the death, ill health and struggles for water which result from this failure. No one can quarrel with equitable access to basic water and sanitation. Water must not be negotiated as a commodity. Earlier:
August 2002 D. Narasimha Reddy is Executive Director of Centre for Resource Education, 201, Maheshwari Complex, Masab Tank, Hyderabad 500 028 India. He is also on the Board of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements