Rough Draft Notes on Water Breakout Group for Land and Nature Stream
Version received 28/5/2013
(rough draft version)
Anil: Let me provide an overview. Water links to many themes, such as climate change and land. The importance of water cannot be overstated. Water flows and cannot be captured, and can be understood through the relationships it creates. Within a community, when considering water, the issue of power is important.
Looking back 10 years, over the recent history of water privatization and activism towards it, water became an issue that revealed the cracks in the neoliberal system. If we draw an arc on water, we worked mainly on privatization and corporations (such as Suez,...), and the World Bank which was also involved. At first, there was no push back, but then people came out onto the street. Now it is more risky for companies investing in the South. There is now a global water justice movement, with quick transfers of information. 2 years ago, water and sanitation was also recognized as a human right.
There are also moves towards remunicipalization, as it's recognized how corporations extract value from previously public companies. Regarding rural water, there are movements around large dams and the links between water and energy.
The possibility of the commons brings the possibility of moving beyond individual rights towards customary rights and group rights, where water is collectively managed. Commons is build on social relationships. There are good examples, for example in Chennai and Rajasthan. There are pockets of community-based management systems. None are perfect, but it raises the question how can we take the essence of it and become a broader movement.
Gustavo: Water is important in Cochabamba. Aguas del Tunari / Bechtel sought to privatize all of the municipal water. 30 years ago the logic of the market was heading towards the ends of breaking the relationship between the community and the commons. The social movements and the community put their money into an estate system, which had become corrupted. The poor people who do not have the service of water are still without the service. Following a new law two years ago, the new government made all water public including those of the communities that were previously managed by them. There’s no commons where there’s no community. Two years ago the struggle was not successful, because the community was considered not able to manage the water commons.
The collectivist struggle is possible, but water management is difficult. The problem of water is also a problem of the co-option of human territory. People are occupying the sources of water. Poor migrant people are building over the sources of water. Water is a metaphor of the complexity of social meaning.
Anil: This was our greatest victory and our greatest defeat.
Saki: For the water commons, value is ours to define
Maristella: We should discuss the different layers in the construction of the commons. When we speak about water, we often discuss the different ways of managing water and attempts to privatize it. We do not talk about issues where water may be a fundamental issue behind another issue, for example, mega-mines and fracking... In the European experience, this is an absent discussion. If we do not acknowledge this, it narrows the issue. In 2004, in *******, the unions were against the impact to water but were in favor of mining. There are intermediary systems that make water and its relationships more complex.
Alexa: The Great Lakes is an indigenous struggle that has existed for a long time. Around the Great Lakes, the greatest threats include fracking and farm run off. A key question is to what extent can the community decide the uses of water? How do we decide use, regulation, and protection? The commoning of water should be expanded to this. We are now alliance building. Most people get water, but there's no collective way to protect it.
Mohammed: We need to distinguish between water for drinking, industry, and agriculture. In Morocco, for agriculture we have some common way of dealing with it in the village; the state organizes the distribution of water through working with associations in the community. Dams that were constructed have created more problems than they solved. Now the state is trying to sell water via the agriculture ministry.
Another thing is that multinational companies (the most recent from France) have bought the natural sources of water (wells) to bottle it. There was a lot of bribery, including donations to the community for schools, and promises of employment. Unfortunately, there was little resistance to this move. We need good practices for how to raise awareness in our country, amongst poor and illiterate people, who are 70% of all people in Morocco, and even more in the countryside.
Rahul: In India, we have a 2012 water policy that talks about the water as common. There is a policy structure that recognizes water as a common, but there is not so much evidence of this being policy being present on the ground.
Water user associations have been promoted for a long time, but these don’t bring in all of the stakeholders. It narrows the scope, for example to irrigation users, and raises the question how do we bring in broader structures of cooperation that are citizenship-based rather than resource-based.
Also, what ways are there of improving understanding of the value of water as a commons? Information is a key. How do we build relationships? Groundwater in India is over-exploited. How can we invest in better information that informs communities and leads to better dialogue amongst commoners?
Gustave: In Venezuela, the first thing was an urgent need to guarantee poor peoples’ access to water and the public water corporations were first divided up. How do you divide up a state water company into a public water company?
When this was implemented, there was a knowledge problem. The engineers and technocrats, that may even have been progressive, did not understand how to share how the aqueduct functioned with communities. There was a problem in the process of sharing the technical knowledge of those that run the water system with others. It required a transformation about the way communities thought about water and how engineers thought about water. It meant engineers participating in community assemblies, which is not a technical issue. In the process, the mechanism was a process of “water tables” that were very localized. Since people had no information about how the aqueduct function, people thought when it rained there should be lots of water. But, that's not necessarily how it worked. People needed to organize assemblies to understand more clearly how the system worked, so that they could then supervise the aqueducts. They needed information about how the system technically worked. In other words, we recognized that you can't deal with water only at the local level because it’s a system. Therefore, it became a negotiation process between the communities. Therefore, Water Councils were organized. After that, people started looking at where water came from. The vision became expanded to understanding and protecting the sources of water. This is still working in some areas of the country. The importance of water helped people connected things (political, ecological...).
Elizabeth: The Blue October campaign presently has four priorities: Climate Change; Human right to water and sanitation; Extractive industry; and *****. What I've learned is that if we want to build water as a commons, we need to build a commitment of the people to it in their daily life. We as people are part of the cycle of water. We have to consider in our politics and activities how to incorporate water.
Jean: We see a revolution in the life of people in mountains. One issue is mining. We need to see mining as a problem of commons, including how water is contaminated by pollution.. There is no agreement of the commons with mining. Mining is water, and water is life.
Shun Ling: We need to remember how important the ideas of religion and the sacred are to water, which is especially important from an indigenous perspective (for example, in Bali).
Marco: Worldwide, there are already communities working on open data towards better public administration. Most of these activists don't necessarily work directly on the natural commons, but many of the tools and the data that they make available could be helpful for natural commons activists. But, I'm afraid that these tools are not widely shared. For example, there is digital collaborative mapping that requires only limited technical knowledge and resources in order to undertake.
Dorothea: Water as a common is so much more than the questions outlined for discussion in this session alone. Tomorrow we should formulate something that shows how big water is. In the water movement, we are still too separated (for example, with different groups working on dams, privatization...)
Alexa: All threats to water are manifestations of a market mentality. We should broaden our conception to this. We should discuss what social relations do we need to cultivate to protect the water commons?
Part 2: Morning, 24th May
Overview of the questions that we plan to address:
• What legal structures and norm based rules guide the use of land, water and air commons? • How do we value the commons? • What is the political and social context of the commons? What social relationships do we seek to catalyze in ascribing value to the commons?
Dorothea: We might prepare a short statement on how water flows and connects. How water is much more than tap water. Also, water as a common is clear to everyone – it doesn’t require much explanation.
Saki: Water is a fundamental right. It’s a source of life that cannot be commodified.
Alexa: These points fit well with a pre-amble. We need to broaden the understanding of water and trends towards commodification and privatization.
Soma: We also need to move beyond rights and towards entitlements, as well as recognizing the interconnections, for example between surface water and ground water.
Saki: Summarized the key propositions of the Naples Agreement on water commonification.
Anil: This could be appended this.
Carl: We should also emphasize the linkages between water and its benefits, for example on food security. Many other benefits of water link to economic, social and cultural rights. There are also uses of water, such as large hydropower dams, that threaten these rights. We should emphasize the connections between, for example, energy planning and decision-making and its impacts on water as a commons.
Dorothea: “Water is not only for humans, it’s a natural right” as stated by groups in Latin America.
Soma: We can also refer to the pre-ambles of the Water Forum. For example, societies and species are embedded in water, and key issues emerge around use, supply, and allocation of water.
Anil: This then becomes a response towards neoliberal privatization and the management of water.
Mohammed: In our statement, we should focus on vision and fundamental strategies.
Saki: There are many water statements that can be referred to. One particular challenge with regards to this statement is that it’s difficult to represent the interests of future generations. Broad statements risk “watering down” and we should focus our statement on to water as a commons.
Alexa: We can support principles, such as responsibility to future generations.
Anil: We can emphasize what the commons paradigm has to offer for a discourse around water? This should be a living document.
Mohammad: We are looking towards a charter of water as commons.
Carl: Transboundary water sources create a particular challenge. There is the 1997 UN Convention on the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses. Although this is state centric, it does recognize water as a regional common good. The accountability of regional river organizations, such as the Mekong River Commission, is primarily to the governments who sign the interstate agreements creating them. These governments pursue a national interest that does not necessarily reflect the interests of communities that depend upon rivers for their livelihoods. The World Commission on Dams report also highlights how transboundary rivers can be shared for peace.
Rahul: If we think of water in silos, it becomes difficult. We need to think about the landscape / waterscape and a continuum of water. There is a need to move beyond productivity logics and towards a more life sustaining language.
Dorothea: I agree that we need to move beyond the logics of efficiency and productivity. We can state “Thinking water as a commons helps to jump out of the market driven logic.”
Rahul: We also need to emphasize delinking water rights from land rights because property rights on land do not cover the wider ecological function.
Saki: An overarching political strategy that we are discussing is towards challenging neo-liberalism.
Carl: In defining the value of the commons, it’s important to emphasize the cultural and sacred value of water. These immaterial values are never incorporated into economic analysis, or into various environmental assessment tools such as Environmental Impact Assessment and Strategic Impact Assessment.
Alexa: We need to reject the concept that water is a resource. We must give standing to the people who use water.
Soma: It’s also important to redistribute power back to the local because large technologies such as hydropower dams take power away from the local.
Equity is also an important principle of how communities organize around commons. This links to life and its sustainability, rather than a withdrawal of this support. Distribution of water - rather than extraction of profit – then becomes the primary concern.
Rahul: Fundamental rights to livelihoods are important. Often “tradeoffs” are created, for example between rural and urban uses of water. We need to emphasize how communities can manage water through their own governance mechanisms.
Anil: Markets are an allocation system. We still need an allocation system, but the market takes decisions away from communities. The commons is another way of allocation.
Alexa: We need a form of governance that facilitates sharing. For example, ecosystem-based governance.
Mohammad: Water is a tool of pressure, for example in the Middle East. In times of conflict, it is used as a terrifying arm.
Saki: This is an important point. Water is a site of power. It can be priced to exclude the poor, for example.
Soma: There is a need to build in equity to decentralization.
Dorothea: The abuse of the water commons is rooted in the fact that everybody needs water. The power to do – common power – can be drawn from collective power.
Anil: We should move the discussion on to forms of legal structure. These might include customary law, State law and constitutional law, transnational/ international law.
Alexa: We need to take advantage of the law we have. But there is also a need to change the law. In the US, large bodies of water are held in public trust by the government in-perpetuity. If the government fails to uphold this, then the people can sue. This law is interpreted differently in different states. The state should be standing up for public trusts.
Rahul: We also use the public trust doctrine in India, devolving governance of land and water. For example, in Rajasthan.
Carl: Access to Justice is also an important principle, including across borders. Also, it is important to ensure that policy is consistent. For example, if water is viewed as a commons but energy policy is not, then energy could infringe on water commons
Soma: People dependent in a particular location must be consulted. Dependency is an important principle for participation.
Thommas: We shouldn’t under-estimated the importance of vernacular law. We need to find a way to recognize laws at the local level. The idea of transforming the existing law in a progressive way is important, redesigning legal tools originally designed for protecting private property (for example, from copy right to the creative commons). We should also look at the redesign of the state towards commons-based institutions, which applies to the local and the state level.
Soma: Regarding governance systems, we need to think how state and national level frameworks can understand local governance. At the moment, this is understood by the state as “participation” rather than local people’s “decision-making.”
Rahul: At present many policies are derived from neo-liberal thinking. There are limited sources of information sharing alternative forms of governance. This needs to be addressed and then shared by P2P.
Thommas: The concept of community is very different between places. It would be interesting to create forms of direct democracy, which is a form of commons. For example, communities drafting their own drafts of laws.
Alexa: We should explore the congruence between organizing strategies and governance strategies.
- After Lunch *****
Anil, Saki, and Soma summarized the morning session.
Eva: For resources of life we need to bring in the time element (inter-generational). We should also ensure that we list threats to water.
Dorothea: Water commons allows us to jump from the neo-liberal logic of viewing water allocation.
Gustav: In Latin America, the sacredness of water is also important.
Alexa: The idea of breaking out of the logic of the market is important in asserting the values. In our strategies (legal, local campaigns…), we need to find ways to reiterate the commons logic for transforming liberal thought.
Carl: There are many local traditional forms of commons management that should be recognized as legitimate by national law, which is often not the case. Across SE Asia, local research has been an important empowerment tool to document local knowledge of resources and institutions. In Thailand it’s called Thai Bann, in Lao Sao Ban, and in Cambodia Sala Phum research.
Saki: We should highlight the principle of subsidiarity, for example as detailed in Ostrom’s work.
Jean: There are two logics of water. One is an engineering logic where we draw as much water as possible and distribute it. We have to confront this, as it is linked to getting the most profit from water. This is not about the preservation of life. There are environmental impact studies, but they don’t take into account the need to transform the legislation, or take into account peoples’ traditional practices of using and protecting water. There is a social principle of meeting the needs of people who are lacking water before everything else. Subsidiarity and local collective management also allows everyone to participate. We don’t know how to do this in big cities, where the social management of water encounters the technical management of water.
Alexa: I like the term “social” management of water, because “public” has become problematic.
Gustavo: I would like to highlight the issue between public, private and common, because there are cases where local government can be democratized - which is public.
Dorothea: Big water companies are increasingly locating themselves at universities and working with academics there. They are trying to integrate their logic into scientific logic.
Armin: I recently saw the CEO of Nestle say that there should be a price on water, otherwise it will be wasted. This evokes the imagery of the Tragedy of the Commons. We need something simple to say in response to “The principle is pricing.”
Saki: The Matrix of the Common Good proposed by Christian Fellburg is a useful framework that is being applied in Naples. But the difficulty is the implementation, because only if all business enterprises adopt this model is it possible to price the water - for example, 50 L/per person / day free, and above that leave it to the market. But, then, how do we avoid the global market price of water. For example, through subsidies to poorer families or through tax? But, the overarching point is that the state has to recognize the Matrix in order to provide the price and incentives.
Alexa: We need to ask, who does water belong to? I would argue that Nestle should not make a cent from water itself. The cost of water should only come from the provision of water.
Amin: We’re facing an uphill battle on this due to the “green economy”. Nestle is seeking guaranteed access, and it intends to do this through water pricing. For large companies, the market can guarantee access. This is also attractive to governments, who will have a new stream of revenue. But, what about the subsistence farmers?
Rahul: Arguing against price is self-defeating. We would like to see capabilities for an area governing water as commons. For example, non-monetary based rules. Or other governance mechanisms. We should think about the alternate? For example, “we want capabilities” rather than “giving rights.”
Saki: There should not be right to transfer water
Alexa: Water should be a collective right and is not transferable
Dorothea: We need to differentiate between rights and costs. Costs are to cover the cost infrastructure, but not provide profit.
Gustavo: When you talk about water in terms of human rights, it’s important but not enough. Not only because of the sacredness of water to many people, but also because of its importance in the cycle of life. It’s very anthropocentric to think about it only in terms of human rights. This is where the question of subsidiarity should be handled with care.
Soma: In India, the one community that has been awarded community forests have also created 9 committees for an autonomous village.
Thommas: I have recently written an essay on the commodification of public utilities. The main idea is about public services, and it addresses the issue of what is the commons. We know it’s a social relationship, involves fair access. But sometimes there is a confusion, when we say water is a common but social movements also say the services are a commons. Why? There is a mediated access to water through commons, and therefore services are commons.
We are struggling against the privatization and commodification of water itself. Monocultures, dams, bottling water…. and the privatization of public services. What does it mean to have a common management of a service? We are against the privatization of services, but we don’t want the old bureaucratic model either. We look for the commonification of public service utilities. It’s about direct democratic participation – and then the big question is how to organize that? How can we rethink the old public model? This is a very concrete problem. For example, not only in Naples, but in Berlin. We need a model. What does a utility that has self-ruling management that involves citizens in a way that’s feasible and sustainable look like?
Armin: Public services can work, for example in Vienna.
Saki: I think an important issue is about institutional design. A more diffused and participatory value of water will safeguard values of commons and look towards community management based on the socialization of knowledge on water. I’d like to ask what are the structures of management in order to promote the participation in water?
Alexa: Saki’s point may be focus more on municipality. We should also consider what to do in large open water bodies.
Soma: There needs to be local planning for local commons, before large projects create a problem. i.e. not re-commoning but ensuring that the commons are already there. This will enable mutual respect for needs.
Amil: It’s important to assert social control into utility structures, even in those that are working quite well. Everybody needs to know that they have the right to the commons. There is a natural existence of the commons – it’s all around us.
Soma: We can consider the concept of “Need holders”
[Added later: Saki: We could also add “care holders”; Justin: We also use “rights” holders; Elizabeth: We can also use “good for life and human right”]
Thommas: Commonified public services are producing new commons, for example in universities… but this also applies to water and environmental protection.
Elizabeth: I’d like to share some lessons learned in Bolovia. Water is still seen as a good. Common sense represents water as a common for life. But the logic of commodities has very deep tentacles that are legal and binding. We have to be aware of this. In Bolivia, we water is recognized as a Human Right in the constitution. Also, internationally, water and sanitation is recognized as a Human Right through the UN. But we haven’t been able to put this in to practice. The system is very savage and responds quickly. Creativity is the first thing that we can do to protect the water commons.
Soma: In India we have law that recognizes water as a common good. We should not abstain the state of its responsibility. It’s not enough that we should be creating commons institutions. The states should be also fulfilling its responsibility.
Saki: I agree with this. Many of the original public services were considered as basic services to be provided by the state. We need to re-democratize the state. We are looking for the social state. Linking commons with the rights of citizen ship
Rahul: Huge investments without an institutional architecture are problematic. The easiest step for new programs by civil society is to bypass existing institutional structures, including political bodies, although this is not the perfect way. Building on existing institutional architecture is the key. Making institutions work is a challenge, even if there are pockets of success.
Alexa: Around the Great Lakes, we are at the point of creating the demand for an institution. The idea that there can be an institution is a fresh idea. It raises challenges about people organizing.
Eva: You can organize around the UN International Water Day, as it already exists. This could also save resources. Such organizing can be regionally based and culturally diverse, to show that we are connected across the world.
Soma: We need commonifiying strategies.
Saki: At which points of power are we pushing for social change? What other institutions and organizations can we push. For example, the process that Ugo described in Naples. Even despite the 2011 referendum, the government tried to ignore it. After that it was taken to the constitutional court. The final outcome happened because of a political junta within the municipality to adopt the referendum.
Thommas: I agree. We need to multiply strategies from local to national to international levels. The problem is that in Italy we have a “prerogative referendum” which is non-binding. This is a weak form. In Italy we have the citizens’ initiative, but it’s a weak tool of direct democracy. Even though it’s in the constitution, the parliament is not obliged to discuss within a certain time period. The importance of using tools of direct democracy is not just because of the outcome but because they also mobilize people.
Judith: We need a strategy, not just tools, but how we use the tool to change the power balance.
Anil: These are struggles that are on-going. Often underneath this there are structural issues related to the commons. Therefore, we should look at where the struggles are and go there. They are opportunities to invest people in the commons. These campaigns should not just stop when the intended result is achieved. We need to deal with the deeper structural issues that need to change, otherwise the problem will regroup and return. The commons is about structural change to address the neoliberal disease.
Soma: Another issue is to shift human rights to collective rights. ESC Rights work better for community rights.
There are lessons from the Narmada struggle. First, there are collective mobilization to address and challenge the states inabilities to meet peoples’ needs. But also there is support to enable communities to interact with this interface with the govt. Finally, deeper values such as equity and sustainability are addressed.
Group summary (Land, Atmosphere, Water)
Justin: Regarding socio-political issues • Climate change: The impossibility of doing it in time. So, let’s do it. • Commons are locally based and based on relations. How do you take the atmosphere into account? How do you take activities (land, sea…) into account? o Proactive positive response, which is about protecting and restoring the commons that are locally based o Reacting to corporate control. There’s a need to federate. To create an alternative narrative that is strong and can recapture the middle level of government o Adaptive: We need to protect peoples’ right to the commons and adapt. Learning between commoners is important – a federation that can act around the world • We need to reclaim the money system. • Intellectual commons – We need to share the green technologies that can solve the problem
Joshua: Valuation: • Conventional valuation is 1$ = 1 vote; and there is discounting for the future • Commons is 1 person one vote; discounting the commons is not appropriate because it focuses on the future • Some values such as human rights are inalienable • The principle should be one person one voice, but those who suffer the most should have more voice.
Brian: Legal issues • This addresses not just laws, but also the norms that we would like to see • There needs to be strong legal support systems to back people up. • The law is a vehicle to be used in alternative strategies, when we can’t depend on the state because it has been co-opted • In terms of strategies o The legal system has been developed over the past 200 years to back up the industrialization process. Unraveling this will be difficult, but as we reach the limits to economic growth new circumstances arise. o Sea level rise, for example: Can we use the law to protect human rights of coastal communities by having the courts requiring the reduction of fossil fuels. o The way that the laws around climate law has been created benefit the climate polluters.
Philippe: We tried to look at land as a resource itself. It lends itself to a lot of different uses that implies different values and social conflicts that sometimes compete with each other (for example, agriculture versus food gathering versus leisure activities). The context of these different uses of the land need to be recognized - that there are different situations depending on where the land is. In the Western context, for example, in Sweden, there has been a redistributive policy including the right to use land for camping, leisure, walking and access to nature.
The main conflict that is almost universal is the idea that land can be possessed, which is very much a Western idea. We can rethink this as land belonging to the community, in a similar way that air is considered as public. Regarding the commons and land, the goal should be to enhance the land or push for the multiplicity of land.
When it comes to rules regarding land, the situation is also very diverse and is shaped by the use of land and the legal tradition involved. But, we can describe it as a tension between private ownership and traditional arrangements that are based on entitlements to use the land.
Joshua: Commons and money affects commons and land. Global access to credit is increasing land prices.
Alexa: We can’t make a case for the water commons within the current market based values systems. We would like to articulate a different logic, which is the purpose of the values.