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Thursday, March 29, 2012

A water manifesto

A water manifesto: impressions from the AWWF in Marseille

Posted: 27 Mar 2012 04:54 AM PDT

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The Alternative World Water Forum stands on the very verge of a global struggle for a paradigm-shift beyond the commodification of the commons.

By Talita Soares

The five-day Alternative World Water Forum recently held in Marseille, France, as a parallel conference to the so-called “official” World Water Forum organized by the World Water Council, was intended to be, in the organization team’s own words, a means to “create and promote an alternative vision of water management which is based on ecological and democratic values”, and to “make the water movement structure sustainable”. The way things stood, the whole event was of course also an attempt to present a strong resistance to the deeds and values of the World Water Council, that revolve around a heartless, strictly-for-profit line pending towards water privatization and restricting access to water, even refusing to recognize it as a human right.

The five days of the AWWF were permeated by both short presentations, mostly about local initiatives that aimed to encourage regional autonomy in the management of water resources, and keynote speeches by a myriad of important leading figures that stood up for free access to water worldwide. All in all, the alternative world water forums seem to be an attempt to give unity to a struggle that has no power if constricted to a local level. The common cry that wrapped it all together was a strong one – “Water for life, not for profit”. There was internal consistency. There was plenty of awareness of the size and importance of the fight they are choosing to fight. The speakers on the opening plenary all made a point of being sharp and straightforward on every issue they spoke about. The sense of urgency was overwhelming, and at times it even brought a sense of joy and union to the conference.

Maybe it was just me, but the magical sentence “We have to work together” that kept on being said, seemed to be getting heavier and heavier with every story that was told – be it about the water wars in Cochabamba in Bolivia, about the recent referendum in Italy on which over 50% of the population voted against the privatization of water services, or the sad stories about the shockingly disproportionate control of Palestine’s water reserves by the state of Israel, or about the growing social disparity in several countries that is greatly related to unequal access to water and other natural resources. The list is truly endless. And underlining it all was the same old reminder – “We have to work together”.

But what does it really mean? What are we truly working for, where does our power come from, a power strong enough to be able to effectively oppose the power of the money and the infrastructure held by the transnational companies that are behind the WWF? The answer is not yet completely clear. The issue of water holds in itself all the basic questions around which revolve every single kind of political action that has ever been, and will ever be, undertaken on this planet. Water is life. Or is it just survival? Is it even possible to talk about the democratic distribution of natural resources if we are not willing to re-examine all the structures of capitalist society to the bottom?

The final battle

There lies, in the need to oppose the absurdity of the WWF’s attempt to treat water as a commercial good, a huge opportunity for the ultimate breakthrough of every movement that claims to fight for equality, democracy, freedom and peace. And love. And fulfillment. And just about anything that comes out of an inner source of deep truth, for that is the crucial point on which this issue is – and has to be – placed in order to have any real meaning. It is a matter of life or death, not only for those who depend on the AWWF’s success for their very survival, but for everyone who understands what a life-affirming society consists of.

Personally, I attended the AWWF as part of a group from the Peace Research Center Tamera, a community project based in Portugal that has for several years looked at water as one of the central areas to be worked on when developing sustainable concrete models for a society without war – that means thoroughly comprehensive models of life that can thus eliminate the very root causes of war, instead of just appalling it through political agreements and re-arrangements.

It is important to note that Tamera’s very unique approach to pacifism isn’t merely about opposing violence, but is rather based on the idea that life, in its most natural state, is inherently free of violent impulses, and that these are therefore never a cause in itself – they are symptoms of more complex structures of oppression that need to be understood and eliminated in their entirety. The whole experiment is thus mainly focused on looking for solutions in the most basic areas of human survival, namely food, water, energy, and community building. A huge insight lies within this holistic point of view, which is that in order to solve problems of a material order, such as the lack of clean water access, one must reconsider the very foundations of the whole environment in which the problem’s inserted.

Within this frame of perception, it was hard not to look at the AWWF as part of “the verge” we are standing on before the most crucial change of paradigms of our times. As Canadian activist Maude Barlow said on the opening plenary, “The World Water Forum must never take place again. Their model has proven to be wrong, and our model is the one emerging.” The model she refers to doesn’t only concern water management – it is the same model that permeates every single instance of today’s society. In every little issue, it becomes more and more about the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.

We need convergence

And yet I am talking about a relatively small event, with an estimated number of participants of around 2,000. Yes, we are on the minority side. Or are we? In a world where a fifth of the population has no permanent access to clean drinking water, where so many people have to make sacrifices in order to simply keep their thirst quenched, where money is so hard to come by and corporations are so often inhumanely greedy in their attempts to restrict our access to virtually everything that can possibly be commercialized, does it make any sense to say that we are a minority? Of course not, and there lies our strength – we’ve already won in numbers. The only problem is that most of us haven’t realized that they belong to an “us” yet. And I risk saying that is mainly due to a lack of real alternatives being presented, at least in a way that evokes unity the way refusal does.

Timothy Leary’s far-famed “Tune in, turn on, drop out” is an incomplete phrase. “Out” is not a surrounding you can live in and experience. Obviously one must drop out of something, and into something else. The world’s seen generations after generations of dropouts. The concept itself stands almost as an ideology, and some may think it is enough to invest their entire existence into making a point of saying “no”, for there is no possible “yes” to be said that can provide the same ecstatic sense of freedom and hope as this “no”. It brings us together without rushing us into any sort of lasting compromise. It’s warm. Tim Leary’s personal advice to those who’d followed his instructions was: “Now go find the others.”

Find the others and start creating, of course. But this part of the story remains mostly untold. The “no” in unison was louder than the many scattered opportunities for a “yes” that followed.

Material solutions to an existential world crisis

When it comes to the issue of water, this dilemma takes on a much graver note. When starving children come into play, providing viable alternatives becomes a matter of immediate survival.

Looking strictly at its local symptoms, it is hard to identify one single root cause to the water crisis. In different regions around the world it can be entirely due to misinformation, or to poor technical management, or to so-called “natural catastrophes”, or to a myriad of other, sometimes extremely subtle, factors. Tamera, in particular, chooses to put a strong emphasis on technology research, as the project aims to be a replicable model for autonomous communities everywhere. Their questions aren’t therefore aimed at solving punctual problems in specific places, but in thoroughly exploring the very being of water, the way it manifests itself under different environmental conditions, and possible solutions to allow it to flow freely, as deeply integrated as possible to the particularities and needs of each and every ecosystem.

Viktor Schauberger was one of the many to come up with great new paradigms for this kind of research. And then again, it is all about creating truly communitarian environments that allow people to deal with water in a new way. When inserted in an entirely different rhythm of life, an entirely new vibration within the relationship between human beings and nature, based on self-sustainability, trust and sharing, the water research gains a new tone. It stops being about taming nature, and it becomes about respecting and appreciating nature.

It is a different way of looking at it, beginning with the intellectual understanding of the issue on its most fundamental levels, finding comprehensive solutions, and only then attempting to apply them in crisis areas. But as I said before, maybe the urgency to strongly oppose the World Water Council’s attempts to monetize water – and other countless examples of similar abuses by all kinds of organizations, such as land grabbing, agribusiness, and seed patents, to name but a few – only has any meaning if it’s seen as the catalyst to the revolutionary momentum we’ve been waiting for, the time for the final common “no” and the ground on which all future possibilities will start being built upon, for that to come up with new systems of water and food distribution we need to come up with entirely new systems of life. Under this light it does become partly about first and foremost forming a unified global movement, with common principles and common goals – but only up to a certain point.

We need convergence – in order to remain distinct

Declaring ourselves against a mainstream current doesn’t mean we have to make the world into a binary code. There won’t always be a clear opposite to everything we reject. When I say we have to come up with real-life alternatives I do not at all mean it is a good thing to start replacing dissatisfaction with the blind abjection to whatever the “counter-masses” are running to. Emptiness can be good for a while. It forces you to reconsider things you have been taking for granted for far too long. Maybe what we need is structures that can hold this state of questioning long enough for it to evolve into real, honest, lasting answers that are grounded on personal experience, and not anymore on cultural trends.

And then I have to say once more, it can all be about water, just as much as it can all be about women rights, or landless farmers, or squatting, or reducing waste. We have to work together. Maybe that means we have to stop always trying to align our own personal perceptions to ready-made causes just to enhance their power in numbers, when really “we” refers to no one but the entire human race, 7 billion strong. Each person’s particularities can’t be looked at as weaknesses.

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