Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Three WSF workshops

We are attending the 2011 World Social Forum. This is an excerpt from our bilingual group blog Rapports de Dakar where there are other postings and photos.

(picture below) Water rights in Africa / Droit à l'eau en Afrique
(RITMO, Fondation Daniel Mitterand, Blue Planet Project, Pambazuka and others)
Discussion of the impact of water shortage privatization in Africa accompanied the launch of L’eau, un bien public à reconquérir, édition française de Reclaiming Public Water (2005) by Transnational Institute & Corporate Europe Observatory.

Privatization is still a major threat, as many African groups reported. In their traditional cultures, theft of community water is a crime. Like pasturage, air and fire, it cannot be privately held but is a commons to be shared. Water concerns are linked with state weakness, human security, sustainability, wellbeing, law, access, health, disease risk, drought and starvation (currently ravaging Casamance), economics, multiple use, fishing, crops, and hydro.

RITMO, ong-ngo.org, and Mitterand Foundation were thanked for helping prepare for Le Forum Alternatif Mondial sur l'Eau (FAME) in Marseilles. A simultaneous World Water Walk for Life is planned for 19-22 March. From the Phillipines came a cry to make it a priority in action strategies, to make it an issue of people power.

Purified and potable water were repeated mentioned as essential needs. J-C Koenig of Eau Île de France pointed out that these needs are equally felt in Paris, but people are unaware of what is behind turning on the tap. Education is vital. A Senegalaise spoke from the heart: we are born from water, water is life, for women it is a crucial means to wash, cook, clean their family and home. A Bangladeshi told of living with recurring floods, a natural rhythm -- and contrasted it with the unnatural problem of agro-industrial pollution. A Caritas worker from Mali called for conservation, cleansing and sharing.

Virtually everyone spoke of water as a basic right, that should be inscribed in UN human rights and the Millenium Development Goals. Many distrust the UN Water Forum because it concedes too easily to corporate lobbies.
(workshop) Pour définir les biens communs / Defining the global commons
(Boell Foundation – research arm of the German Green Party)

Discussion was led by Silbe Heifrich, co-author of Strengthen the Commons - Now and Biens Communs - La Prospérite par le partage were available. We explored conflicting definitions of the commons: essentials of life, possession vs property, group ownership vs continuous defence and maintenance, analogies with internet "open source". We concluded that to substitute a sharing society for privatizing greed was a key goal, that to define the commons was a necessary but slippery task.

Adama Denbale summarized Peter Linebaugh's history The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All, pointing out that the commons were always socially defined, involving an economic claim to life-saving forest food and resources -- not just a political milestone. The tragedy of the commons is not over-exploitation by peasant communities (as Elinor Ostrom shows in Governing the Commons, 1991) but the land grabs of Enclosure that accompanied the capitalist-industrial revolution. And other grabs are still occurring: air, energy, water. How can society be restored? Much debate ensued, but the consensus was that a peoples' mobilization, or a new social contract, or both, were required. The commons is not no-man's land, open to everybody for everything for free. It is a sacred trust that must be defined, democratically debated, given rules, and respected by external forces -- and if necessary fiercely and eternally defended.

(workshop) climate justice campaign for G20, CSD and Rio+20
(Madre Tierre - Bolivia). This is the first of at least eight such workshops by various climate justice groups on shortcomings of the UN "green economy" plan and its complicity with the Copenhagen-Cancun deal.

Bolivia's UN ambassador Pablo Solon led a lively discussion, with trilingual handouts, on Bolivia's opposition to the US-backed Copenhagen Accord and Cancun Deal. He underlined the dangers of the UN “green economy” plan tied to the US-backed Accord – a carbon trading bubble with polluter offsets denominated in CDM, REDD, PES credits, neither real money nor real action.

Why did Bolivia stand alone against the Cancun deal? Because emission cuts fall woefully short of science-based targets. Current emissions promises (even if met) will lead to 4°C climate change, storm floods, increased deserts and massive glacier melt (in the Andes as well as Himalayas), droughts, the drowning of islands, mass extinctions, climate refugees and food crop loss. 300,000 people now die yearly – natural disasters would increase this to a million yearly. Mainstream media at Cancun largely ignored these facts, in order to proclaim a diplomatic success. Bolivia was portrayed as a deal-breaking maverick.

His stand was supported by many: Brazilians, Kenyans, Germans, Italians and others. I didn't catch all the whispered translations. David Boyd proposed combining with an access-to-energy campaign in the global South (ex: 6 hours of electricity per day in Nigeria). Jose Rico of Via Campesina (France) said REDD was a major issue, and the dangers of Cancun and green-capitalist economy must be emphasized – of which the public remains ignorant, young Americans and Canadians agreed. A major awareness campaign is needed. Italians also said we must link to local issues.

Tom Goldtooth of IEN spoke of land grabs and impacts on indigenous peoples worldwide. He suggested No REDD - A Reader and his own organization's What is REDD? Silbe Helfrich of the Boell Foundation said its publications on climate equity and the global commons might help. Some were handed out at the Boell workshop. Theologian Alex Zanotelli, with years in Sudan and Kenya, reminded us of the complexity of African issues and focused on the idea of popular referenda to defeat water privatization.

A Senegalese youth sport organizer pointed to the recent disappearance of parks and lakes. Other African delegates spoke of extreme poverty, land & food issues, the weakness of state action, the need to educate youth about climate issues. In Kenya many of the IDP refugees were promised forest land for food and shelter – evicted to make way for nature-conservation schemes of the World Bank and UN. Bolivians too admit contradictions: new highways would threaten valley erosion.

Hervé Crosnier of WF on Science and Democracy is calling on scientists to attend Rio+20. Its life-and-death political decisions must be science-based.

Clearly, a very wide range of civil society groups including churches, unions, women's and human rights groups are willing to help, but much analysis of local needs, careful planning and cultural sensitivity will be needed.

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