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Water Activists Refuse Debate at World Water Forum

Water Activists Refuse Debate at World Water Forum

Food & Water Watch

On March 12, Food & Water Watch and Food & Water Europe Executive Director Wenonah Hauter declined an invitation to debate World Water Forum participants on the merits of public versus private involvement in the water sector, encouraging them to involve a Philippine water activist who could testify to the disaster that privatization brought to her community in the Philippines. Council of Canadians Chair Maude Barlow had also previously declined the invitation. 

“Since this debate is closed to the public and is only open to Forum participants, who must pay prohibitive fees in travel and registration to attend, I feel rather than participate in the debate myself, you should hear from a citizen directly impacted by water privatization schemes,” wrote Hauteur to Benedito Braga, president of the International Forum Committee. 

“No company should profit from the endeavor to supply the world with clean water and sanitation,” wrote Hauter. “Anything less is unacceptable, and that is why I will not support the Forum with my participation in this debate.”

Hauter suggested that the Forum hear from Maria Theresa N. Lauron, IBON International program officer and Philippine activist. “The privatization of MWSS (Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System) is one of the largest PPP (public-private partnerships) projects ever implemented in the country. Almost 15 years ago, it was touted as the solution to inefficient water services amid exorbitant user fees. Today, the basic charge for water services in Metro Manilla has soared by almost 1,000 percent since privatization in 1997,” said Lauron.

Food & Water Watch is joining activists in Marseille protesting the Forum as an inappropriate venue for forging water policy at the Alternative Water Forum, which will be held March 14-17. Nearly 3,000 people are expected to attend to the alternative forum to counter the corporate-led Forum.

The World Water Forum has been plagued by controversy and low attendance this year, with European media citing that the forum had only 6,000 registrants in the days leading up to the event, falling dismally short of the 20,000 previously anticipated. President Nikolas Sarkozy, previously slated to attend, has bowed out amid the controversy, and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already stated that it will not be attending this year.

“Water and sanitation have been recognized as human rights,” says Maude Barlow, chairperson of the Council of Canadians and Food & Water Watch. “The challenge now is to have governments implement these rights as quickly as possible now. It’s a poor starting point for the World Water Forum to fail to recognize these fundamental rights.”

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An illustration depicts the extinct woolly rhino. Heinrich Harder / Wikimedia Commons

The last Ice Age eliminated some giant mammals, like the woolly rhino. Conventional thinking initially attributed their extinction to hunting. While overhunting may have contributed, a new study pinpointed a different reason for the woolly rhinos' extinction: climate change.

The last of the woolly rhinos went extinct in Siberia nearly 14,000 years ago, just when the Earth's climate began changing from its frozen conditions to something warmer, wetter and less favorable to the large land mammal. DNA tests conducted by scientists on 14 well-preserved rhinos point to rapid warming as the culprit, CNN reported.

"Humans are well known to alter their environment and so the assumption is that if it was a large animal it would have been useful to people as food and that must have caused its demise," says Edana Lord, a graduate student at the Center for Paleogenetics in Stockholm, Sweden, and co-first author of the paper, Smithsonian Magazine reported. "But our findings highlight the role of rapid climate change in the woolly rhino's extinction."

The study, published in Current Biology, notes that the rhino population stayed fairly consistent for tens of thousands of years until 18,500 years ago. That means that people and rhinos lived together in Northern Siberia for roughly 13,000 years before rhinos went extinct, Science News reported.

The findings are an ominous harbinger for large species during the current climate crisis. As EcoWatch reported, nearly 1,000 species are expected to go extinct within the next 100 years due to their inability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. Tigers, eagles and rhinos are especially vulnerable.

The difference between now and the phenomenon 14,000 years ago is that human activity is directly responsible for the current climate crisis.

To figure out the cause of the woolly rhinos' extinction, scientists examined DNA from different rhinos across Siberia. The tissue, bone and hair samples allowed them to deduce the population size and diversity for tens of thousands of years prior to extinction, CNN reported.

Researchers spent years exploring the Siberian permafrost to find enough samples. Then they had to look for pristine genetic material, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

It turns out the wooly rhinos actually thrived as they lived alongside humans.

"It was initially thought that humans appeared in northeastern Siberia fourteen or fifteen thousand years ago, around when the woolly rhinoceros went extinct. But recently, there have been several discoveries of much older human occupation sites, the most famous of which is around thirty thousand years old," senior author Love Dalén, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Center for Paleogenetics, said in a press release.

"This paper shows that woolly rhino coexisted with people for millennia without any significant impact on their population," Grant Zazula, a paleontologist for Canada's Yukon territory and Simon Fraser University who was not involved in the research, told Smithsonian Magazine. "Then all of a sudden the climate changed and they went extinct."

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Transitioning to renewable energy can help reduce global warming, and Jennie Stephens of Northeastern University says it can also drive social change.

For example, she says that locally owned businesses can lead the local clean energy economy and create new jobs in underserved communities.

"We really need to think about … connecting climate and energy with other issues that people wake up every day really worried about," she says, "whether it be jobs, housing, transportation, health and well-being."

To maximize that potential, she says the energy sector must have more women and people of color in positions of influence. Research shows that leadership in the solar industry, for example, is currently dominated by white men.

"I think that a more inclusive, diverse leadership is essential to be able to effectively make these connections," Stephens says. "Diversity is not just about who people are and their identity, but the ideas and the priorities and the approaches and the lens that they bring to the world."

So she says by elevating diverse voices, organizations can better connect the climate benefits of clean energy with social and economic transformation.

Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.

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