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G8 agrees action plan on water: critics say it's a washout

In a town famous for its springs, leaders of the powerful G8 group of nations Monday agreed an action plan promising access to vital water supplies, but it was immediately denounced by aid groups.

india Updated: Jun 04, 2003 10:40 IST

In a town famous for its springs, leaders of the powerful G8 group of nations Monday agreed an action plan promising access to vital water supplies, but it was immediately denounced by aid groups.

The plan urges the international community to "redouble its efforts" to meet the UN-set targets of halving by 2015 the number of people who do not have access to safe drinking water or proper sanitation.

"As water is essential to life, lack of water can undermine human security. We are committed to playing a more active role," the Group of Eight said at their summit in Evian, the French resort famous for its bottled mineral water.

According to the United Nations, about 1.2 billion people currently do not have access to drinking water and 2.4 billion have little or no sanitation.

The agreement commits the G8 countries to providing their poorer neighbours with technical, financial and logistical support.

But the plan contains no figures. The commitments are ill-defined. There is no mention of earlier suggestions of doubling development aid.

Above all, charged Barry Coates, director of the World Development Movement which has been monitoring the water crisis, "it is an ideologically driven push for privatisation."

The action plan has five sections: good governance; financial resources; infrastructure; monitoring; and international engagement.

The G8 countries promised to assist, "as a priority, countries that make a political commitment to prioritise safe drinking water and basic sanitation as part of their strategy to promote sustainable development."

The top priority should be given to "sound water and sanitation proposals" of emerging nations.

"This can be a catalyst to mobilise other financial flows."

But the plan in particular advocates the involvement of the private sector in water supplies, either on its own or in partnership with the state.

"We are committed to promote public-private partnerships, where appropriate and suitable," it adds.

This would be by measures such as encouraging water supply contracts to be put out to tender, inducing private-sector investment and facilitating lending and international commercial input through risk guarantee schemes.

Other elements of the plan focus on improving cooperation and developing a better infrastructure, such as irrigation, water treatment and sewage.

Friends of the Earth called the plan "undrinkable."

Spokeswoman Helene Ballande said access to water and sanitation were basic rights "that should not be regulated by the invisible hands of the free market and the interests of multinationals, but decided democratically by the people of each country."

Coates, for his part, said the plan was positive in that it recognised the need for more funding.

Overall, however, "from our perspective it's driven by ideology rather than the evidence.

"They should be pushing low-cost, low-technology water supply projects, at very affordable prices or free to the poor."

The plan was adopted as around 200 anti-G8 protestors demonstrated outside the Geneva headquarters of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) demanding a halt to privatisation of water supplies.

They waved banners declaring "Our water, our life, not for sale" and "Free water for all."

First Published: Jun 04, 2003 10:40 IST