Bolivian ambassador speaks out against water privatization

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“We believe it would be suicide to follow the path of privatization and commercialization of water and public services.”

Speech by Ambassador Pablo Solon, Permanent Representative of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, at the United Nations discussion on the right to water and indigenous peoples, May 24, 2011.


Thank you very much, Madam President.

The revolutionary process of change in Bolivia has its roots precisely in the struggle against the privatization of water in my country. Ten years ago, we had one of the biggest battles to defend this resource from privatization in the city of Cochabamba and to oppose and change a law that privatized the sources of potable water for indigenous peoples in farming communities that rely on irrigation.

Thanks to our success in stopping the privatization of water and modifying that law, a great unity was born among the Bolivian people which later allowed us to seek even deeper changes, notably the recovery of our natural resources and the recovery of our government – our own government, not one dictated from the outside.

That is why we promoted a resolution at the United Nations last year to declare the human right to water and sanitation, a resolution that was adopted without a single vote in opposition. We have to wonder why it took 62 years to pass a resolution declaring the human right to water and sanitation when it is quite evident that without water, there is no life, and without life, there are no human rights. Nonetheless, 62 years went by between the passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Resolution on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation.

In the course of our negotiations for this resolution, we arrived at the conclusion that two things must have caused the longstanding lack of recognition of the human right to water.

First, the desire to transform water into merchandise, a resource that will be more valuable than gold in the near future.

Second, the interests, concerns, geopolitical fears and strategies of countries that have what are obviously shared resources flowing along their borders and, in some cases, becoming the source of conflicts.

However, in an historic moment on July 28th of last year, we achieved the approval of this resolution. It is important because it shows us a way forward. It is a star that guides our path because, if we really want to show respect for life, the society of the future should be a society that guarantees human rights for all human beings.

That is why, for the Plurinational State of Bolivia, to speak of derivative rights when it comes to water is simply not appropriate. The human right to water is not derived from any other right, it is an essential, substantive right that is at the same level as all other rights and the very basis on which life depends.

A fundamental issue we must now discuss is how to make the human right to water a reality. Clearly this will happen through funding, through the economic resources that will be invested to make the human right to water a reality for the billion people that currently go without. Here we have a debate heading toward Rio+20 – how can we find the necessary resources?

In our opinion, it is unacceptable that 1.5 billion dollars are put toward defense budgets and the same amount is not available to resolve the issue of water. Unfortunately, there is a proposal on the table based on the “green economy” which says that for financing to be available, the water sector must be opened up to private investment, because only private businesses have sufficient resources to invest in water, and for investment to occur we must guarantee them a certain rate of profit and pay the real price of water.

This path is the same one we confronted more than ten years ago in my country, and we believe it would be suicide to follow the path of privatization and commercialization of water and public services.

We believe that, instead, we must promote mechanisms to generate resources from public funds, from taxes on financial transactions that allow us to put 0.01% of each dollar that flows from one country to another to create a fund to help resolve the fundamental issue of water, the human right on which life depends. I want to take this opportunity to express that, from the perspective of indigenous peoples, water is not just a resource. In the indigenous view, water is a living thing, a being that springs from the Mother Earth. Water allows for unity, it allows for articulation within human society and between human society and nature.

In the Andean indigenous vision, water belongs at once to everybody and nobody. It belongs to all living things on Earth as well as, of course, human beings. Water has its own laws, its own vital cycle. The Andean vision does not treat water as though it were only H2O, but much more than that, and that is what we must recover in the process toward Rio+20. We have to abandon the point of view of the green economy that proposes that water is like a book, when water is life itself, water has vital cycles that must be respected and that we have failed to respect in recent decades.

What is the vital cycle of water? The cycle by which water evaporates from the Earth and the ocean to enter the atmosphere and then return as precipitation, we have been altering it by cutting down trees, by killing biodiversity and vegetation, by emitting greenhouse gases, contaminating the water. When we affect that vital cycle, we are affecting the human right to water and the right of all things to water because plants, animals, and the Earth also have a right to water. We believe that water itself also has rights, that it has the right to have its vital cycle respected, and we have to begin to discuss this at Rio+20. Water as such has the right to preserve its cycle, which is the source of life for our entire system, what we call our Mother Earth, which includes and nurtures us all.

I would like to conclude by telling you that if we do not respect the rights of water we can only imagine what might happen in the Andean region where I am from. Global warming has already reduced the glacier cover on our mountains by one third. With the current levels of greenhouse gas reduction commitments agreed upon in Cancun last year, we will lose another third of our glaciers within the next ten years. That is why we opposed the so-called “Cancun Agreements” Can you imagine what it would mean for the indigenous peoples that live in the highlands in my country to lose the glaciers and the impact that this would have on biodiversity, agriculture, access to drinking water, life itself?

For us, there is a red line when we talk about climate change, and that red line is our glaciers – water in its solid state preserving precisely that vital cycle that water has a right to maintain and that is also the right of all of us.

Thank you very much.