The Fifth World Water Forum, a meeting of more than 27,000 people from around the globe focusing on water scarcity and management issues, began on Monday in Istanbul, Turkey.
The forum opened to the sounds of protest, as activists voiced their opposition to the privatization of water, chanting slogans like “water is people; it’s life. It’s not for sale.” Police broke up protests with tear gas.
The water issue is a sensitive one in Turkey, where the government is building a massive hydroelectric dam on the historic Tigris River in the southeastern part of that country. It says the dam will provide much-needed power and irrigation — but activists claim it could cause irreparable harm to the environment and the people who live there.
The “Istanbul Calling” blog summarizes the dam debate in Turkey:
The Ilisu dam project in southeast Turkey has been one of the country’s most controversial energy and infrastructure plans for years. The proposed dam, which would be Turkey’s 2nd largest, would lead to the displacement of tens of thousands — mostly Kurdish villagers — and the flooding of Hasankeyf, a unique, historic town on the Tigris River. The Turkish government claims the dam is an important part of a larger plan to bring economic development to the struggling region, but locals believe the damage caused by the project will outweigh any of its benefits.
Turkish pop star Tarkan has campaigned to stop the construction of the Ilisu Dam and also composed an environmentally-themed song, “Uyan” (Wake Up), featuring a dry Turkish landscape as seen in the YouTube video below. Read a translation of the lyrics at the “TreeHugger” blog.
Blogger “CitizenReporter” takes issue with the Water Forum’s corporate attendees, arguing that it will be difficult to see water as a human right given the heavy presence of self-interested water companies:
Looking around at what organizations and individuals are attending, one could argue that the concerns about protecting access to water, quality and affordability especially, is definitely on the agenda. But as with the previous 4 meetings, the big name water companies like RWE and Suez will also be there, corporations that have been busy buying up water systems throughout the world for more than a decade. Naturally if any discussions are going to take place, it makes sense that all stakeholders in the water management world are a part of them. Yet the record of many of these players call into question any serious claim of wanting water as a human right and an essential resource for life, to be protected and respected. The spirit of viewing water as a commodity is very much still out there.
Blogger Chris Brown argues that water should be privatized, and that the free market could solve the water issue:
In a free market, no shortages would exist. In fact, it is very unlikely any of the earth’s resources would be used up. This is because the (futures) price would rise almost to infinity as supply decreased, which (again) would encourage higher prices, lower consumption, a natural rationing, innovation and competition, and an increase in the availability of substitutes.
The “Bellum” blog writes that the water problem has always been a source of conflict, pointing out that it is difficult to both serve all human interests and build the infrastructure needed to provide safe water:
[A]s demand for water increases, so does the likelihood of conflict. Descending on Istanbul, in addition to the diplomats and scientists, are the requisite protesters, including the UN’s own water czar. The protesters oppose the “privatization” of water, arguing that access to it is a “human right” and chanting, “Water for life, not for profit!”
For all the talk of good governance, improved technique, best practices, and so forth, the Water Problem has always been with us. If water is a human right, as the Istanbul protesters declare, will God build the infrastructure? If water is a commodity that should be privatized and sold to take advantage of market efficiencies, are we comfortable letting people die if they cannot pay the proper price? As the answer to both is “No,” we muddle through the discourse…
For more on water use worldwide, see our map of global resources: The world according to energy.
For more Worldfocus coverage of Turkey, visit our extended coverage page: Turkey between East and West.