Food & Water Watch
  • Date submitted: 1 Nov 2011
  • Stakeholder type: Major Group
  • Name: Food & Water Watch
  • Submission Document: Download
Keywords: Land (2 hits),

Full Submission

Submission to the Zero Draft Outcome Document for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20)
Endorsed by 10 organizations on 5 continents, collectively representing over 1.5 million people.*

As members of the global movements for climate, water and food justice, we wish to1 echo those who are expressing deep concern for the false solutions proposed in the name of reducing carbon emissions and combatting global warming. Market mechanisms that commodify nature have not only failed to reduce global warming at a sufficient rate, but serve to create ownership of and profitability from natural resources that belong to the global commons and must be protected in the public trust.

The delicate balance among the earth?s ecosystems is the basis of survival for all species, including humans. Yet the health of these ecosystems has been subjugated to economic growth with little recognition of their inherent relationship. There is broad agreement that we must reduce carbon emissions, clean up polluted water sources and preserve biodiversity, but until we change our paradigm, our efforts will be insufficient.

The undeniable effects of climate change are driving recognition that the earth has a tipping point and cannot support status quo patterns of production and consumption. Increased droughts, flooding and erratic weather patterns are severely impacting hydrologic cycles and food production. Global warming will be felt most acutely by the poor. Achieving the parallel goals of reversing global warming and feeding our growing global population will require transparent, participatory, community-centered solutions that prioritize both the human rights to water and food, and the right of the earth to maintain ecosystem balance. There is enough food to feed the global population and there is enough water to quench the world?s thirst, but there is not yet the political will to make it happen.

Green Economy in the Context of Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication

The ?Green Economy? has become a controversial term used broadly without clear definition, though it has been used most commonly to encompass strategies that counter environmental damage through market mechanisms. As such, it should not be used in any CSD documents unless and until a definition is established by consensus of the General Assembly prioritizing those mechanisms which do not commodify nature.
Nonetheless, the focus of the CSD with respect to the three pillars of sustainable development should be to lower global carbon emissions while meeting the needs of the poorest. Developed countries must help finance developing countries to address human rights violations that emerge from natural resource deficiencies accelerated by climate change. An economy based on nuclear energy, oil and coal, genetic engineering, toxic chemicals or the overexploitation of our forests and seas will never be sustainable or green. Instead, a fair green economy is one that provides sustainable livelihoods for all while fully respecting ecological limits.

The Human Right to Water and Sanitation and Climate Change

It is not possible to protect the human right to water and sanitation without recognizing the inherent rights of nature and other species. Thus we must first prioritize source water protection and the integrity of hydrologic cycles. The UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council have now both recognized the human right to water and sanitation and the CSD must advance this mandate in Rio. We strongly support the call of the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation in stressing the value of applying a human rights framework as it specifically targets those with greatest need and prioritizes non-discrimination.

According to the World Health Organization, about 20 percent of the world?s population lives in countries where water is scarce. By 2025, 800 million people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity (when demand outpaces supply), and two-thirds of the world will live in water stressed areas.

The problem of water scarcity is being driven by many factors, including climate change, population growth, pollution and misuse of water resources, all of which must be addressed in an integrated manner. By 2050 we will likely reach 10 billion people and without increased conservation, this will require 80 percent more water supply to meet our needs for household consumption, agriculture and industry.

It is generally estimated that 70 percent of global fresh water use is for agriculture and irrigation, and much of that is for animal feed. Approximately 20 percent of water is used by industry while less than 10 percent is used by households for basic health and sanitation. This highlights the fact that any effective conservation efforts must target agriculture and industry. Household consumption has been found to be relatively inelastic because barring the purchase of energy-efficient appliances, people require a static amount of water for drinking and bathing.

Pollution, in the form of human and animal waste and toxic chemicals, must also be addressed. One out of three urban dwellers are without access to sanitation. And of the almost 10 million chemicals known today, approximately 100,000 chemicals are used commercially for agriculture, industry and household use.

?Virtual water? refers to the water used in the production of crops or manufactured goods for export. If a country exports a water-intensive product to another country, it amounts to exporting water, which decreases the amount of water available in the home country. While this may seem like an innocuous step in global trade, many countries are using their most productive Land to grow cash crops for export, regardless of the impact on water depletion and ability to feed the local population.

As awareness grows of freshwater limitations, so too does the drive to profit from this scarce resource. Private sector advocacy towards establishing water markets, water trading schemes and speculation is increasingly succeeding and is being helped along by financially constrained governments, often with the hope that outsourcing responsibility will bring private financing.

Private water companies have often been unable to meet obligations to shareholders while also meeting their obligation to maintain and expand water systems and to provide acceptable quality water at affordable prices. Private companies have little incentive to expand access to potable water when large sectors of the population are poor and unable to pay market rates.

The only long-term solution for achieving universal water is to establish government policies that use tax dollars to finance water infrastructure and to use cross-subsidies to make water access affordable. When only twelve percent of the world?s population uses 85 percent of the world?s water, we have clearly failed in justly distributing the most essential resource to life.

Agriculture Policy, Food Sovereignty and Climate Change

We have created a global agriculture system that rewards industrial food companies for producing luxury foods for those who can afford them. Millions of dollars are spent in northern countries to combat the health effects of obesity, while in other parts of the globe, millions of people are dying of hunger or malnutrition.

The dueling paradigms for combating global warming are mirrored in the debate over feeding the world. On one hand, some believe that transferring the latest technological advances, most of which are capital intensive, to every corner of the world will improve agricultural productivity and thus solve the problem of hunger. In this view, hunger is caused by lack of sufficient production.

However, there is ample evidence that hunger is primarily caused by distribution and power dynamics. The vast majority of agricultural technology is privately owned, capital intensive, and dependent on finite resources.

In 2009, the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development or IAASTD reportconcluded, the way the world grows its food will have to change radically and argued for an agroecological approach to food production. The four-year, UN-sponsored project included the work of 400 researchers and was funded by $12 million from the World Bank.

This elaborate report rocked the status quo by concluding that an agroecological approach is the most effective route to meeting the worlds increasing food needs, starkly contrasting the strategies promoted by industrial agriculture firms that claim bioengineering will feed the hungry. When 80 percent of global food is grown by small scale farmers, an agroecological approach is, by definition, better suited to adapting to local conditions and generating agricultural production from locally available resources, and without the same heavy reliance on capital. In that sense, agroecological systems are neither traditional nor industrialized but are uniquely appropriate for their conditions.

Concentration of the industrial food complex is legion. This increasing concentration also has serious impacts on Land tenure distribution and thus exacerbates poverty. We cannot continue to degrade our soil with genetically modified mono-crops and their requisite fertilizer-pesticide packages and expect yields to perpetually feed our growing population.

Corporate Influence at the UN and in the CSD Process

We are deeply concerned that the corporate sector is increasingly impacting policy debates within the UN system. While there is certainly a role for business in implementing sustainable development practices and decreasing their environmental footprint, corporations are pushing for the implementation of market mechanisms from which they can profit. Particularly in the water sector, corporations are using the CEO Water Mandate to promote a private market system for water delivery and access at the expense of the public and the poor.

This close relationship between corporations and the UN legitimizes the growing influence of these corporations on policy, both at the UN and at the state level.

Resolution E/2005/29 calls upon the CSD to review the implementation of international water and sanitation decisions at its session in 2012 (p. 19, paragraph 4). A Review of Private Sector Influence on Water Policies and Programmes at the United Nations by the Council of Canadians found evidence of significant corporate lobbying and influence in past water-themed discussions and proceedings of the CSD, including during processes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002. The CSD must work to correct and prevent the presence of corporate conflicts of interest in international water governance. By addressing corporate pressures at Rio +20, governments have a greater opportunity to explore the full range of options that exist for addressing the global water crisis. This includes viable options of private sector participation in the provision of water and sanitation services, often presented under the guise of greening the economy.

Financing Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation

The World Bank and other international financial institutions have used the same flawed ideology that supports tax havens to promote lower tax structures in resource-rich developing countries. Mining companies across Africa are failing to pay royalties and are avoiding billions of dollars in taxes. The IFIs should begin by stopping tax avoidance, corporate tax subsidies, secret contracts, speculation and creative accounting that pit one country against another and propel a race to the bottom. Even a fraction of this money would go a long way toward providing basic services for everyone.

Implementation of an international financial transactions tax could potentially raise millions of dollars for countering climate change and poverty, and would slow the speculation that has rocked commodities markets.

We recommend the following Sustainable Development Goals:

A mandate that states develop national water plans that include source protection at the watershed level and a human rights framework for achieving water and sanitation provision, including sufficient quantity, quality and affordability guidelines.

Governments must raise the priority of providing safe water and sanitation to their people by financing water infrastructure and sanitation with tax dollars and applying cross-subsidies to make water affordable to all. Likewise, Northern countries should help finance these goals in less developed countries.

Agroecological methods of food production should replace the growing trend toward industrialization. Such methods sequester carbon in the soil, promote biodiversity and promote local food sovereignty. The UN must implement a strong set of system-wide standards and safeguards to prevent and address corporate conflicts of interest, based on the existing Guidelines on Cooperation between the United Nations and the Business Sector. This must include a grievance procedure for concerned parties to raise questions about private sector engagements in UN proceedings on water and to ensure appropriate action and receive coordinated responses to the issues raised.

Implement a financial transactions tax and use the funds to combat climate change and poverty.

We also support the following objectives, targets and possible actions proposed by the UN Secretary Generals Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation:


Ensure universal access to sanitation and safe drinking water through the adoption of plans for accelerated implementation of all dimensions of the human right to water and sanitation: safety, availability, accessibility, acceptability, affordability, non-discrimination, participation and accountability.

Proposed targets:

Universal access to basic sanitation and improved water sources by 20xx

Universal access to safe drinking water by 20xx

Development of good quality services in cities at a rate that exceeds the rate of urban growth

Drinking water networks to supply water continuously (24/7) in order to ensure safety and availability of water


Common vision of wastewater management. Governments together decide to strengthen their respective actions on pollution of freshwater by adopting a shared vision of urban, industrial and agricultural wastewater management including collection, treatment and water reuse.

Proposed target:

Reduce the percentage of wastewater that is not collected safely from households

Reduce the percentage of wastewater that is discharged into the natural environment without treatment

Increase the percentage of urban wastewater that is treated for safe reuse in agriculture and industrial processes

Reduce the amount of water pollution arising from agriculture

Reduce the amount of water pollution released by industry

Possible Actions:

Establish or strengthen national policies and regulations for wastewater collection, treatment and discharge in order to ensure that individual and collective practices and systems are sufficient to protect health of individuals against potential contamination by others and by economic activities and to protect natural ecosystems against harmful pollution

Get organized to monitor and stimulate at national level progress of wastewater collection and treatment by collective systems and individual facilities

Get organized to monitor and control potential contamination of drinking water sources by manmade pollution

Introduce or strengthen laws and other forms of regulation to support the reduction of pollutants and make water reuse possible, including the recovery of positive substances

Request the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) or another UN agency to collect national statistics on wastewater management and report on its global progress.

Submitted by:

The Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach (CCAO) promotes the social justice priorities of the U.S. region of the Missionary Society of St. Columban. We represent Columban missionaries: Catholic men and women who work with and serve those who are poor in fifteen countries worldwide, as well as communities in the U.S. Through advocacy, solidarity, and education, the CCAO is dedicated to raising the peace, social justice and ecological concerns of the people with whom we live and serve. We represent 30,000 individuals in the United States. The Council of Canadians, founded in 1985, is Canadas largest citizens organization, with over 70 chapters across the country. We work to protect Canadian independence by promoting progressive policies on fair trade, clean water, energy security, public health care, and other issues of social and economic concern to Canadians.

FIVAS: The Association for International Water Studies. FIVAS is a civil society organisation working to monitor consequences of water projects and construction in the global South. Our focus is on the topics of water as a human right and hydropower. Based in Norway, FIVAS has an active body of skilled volunteers working on varying projects, but no formal members.

Food and Water Watch is a non-profit, nongovernmental consumer rights organization based in Washington, D.C. with 15 satellite offices in the U.S., Europe and Latin America. We fight for safe food and clean water through public education, legislative lobbying and by supporting local campaigns for local control of food and water resources. We collectively represent over 300,000 consumers.

Our Water Commons is a collaborative program of On the Commons, an organization formed in 2001 to advance commons-based solutions that will help achieve environmental restoration, social justice, global cooperation and a brighter future for all. OWC seeks to transform societal decision making for water stewardship towards participatory, democratic, community-centered systems that value equity and sustainability as a strategy.

The Polaris Institute seeks to enable social movements to re-skill and re-tool themselves to fight for democratic social change in an age of corporate driven globalization. The Institute works with citizen movements in developing strategies and tactics to unmask and challenge the corporate power that is the driving force behind government public policy making on economic, social and environmental issues. In so doing, the Institute serves as a catalyst with constituency-based social movements, increasing their capacity to do their own strategic campaign planning on issues of vital concern to their members and allies. The work of Polaris with social movements is carried out on both a national and an international basis, representing more than 5000 people.

The United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries is one of four Covenanted Ministries in the UCC, which helps local congregations and all settings of the church respond to God's commandments to do justice, seek peace and effect change for a better world. We represent over one million congregants.

The United Church of Christ, Global Ministries commits to a shared life in Christ and to an ecumenical global sharing of resources and prophetic vision of a just and peaceful world order, joining with Gods concern for the poor and oppressed. This commitment will be reflected in common decision-making for the mission program which will visibly witness to the oneness of mission in and through the Church of Jesus Christ. We represent over one million congregants. Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (US Section) was founded in 1915 during World War I, with Jane Addams as its first president. WILPF works to achieve through peaceful means world disarmament, full rights for women, racial and economic justice, an end to all forms of violence, and to establish those political, social, and psychological conditions which can assure peace, freedom, and justice for all. WILPF works to create an environment of political, economic, social and psychological freedom for all members of the human community, so that true peace can be enjoyed by all. In the U.S. we represent approximately 2,300 members.

Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA), founded in 1984, is a registered non-profit making, voluntary development organisation working in the interest of poor and the marginalised in urban and rural areas on the issues of housing, livelihood and rights of urban poor children, women and youth and informal workers through action organization, capacity building, research and advocacy at Mumbai City, State and National levels. Based in India, YUVA is accredited as an NGO with general consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (UNECOSOC).
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