No Democracy Without Water Justice!

SHK - Panel & Forum (3)Right to Water Campaign organised, 2 November 2013, a panel and forum under the name “No democracy without water justice! Defending our commons and right to water”. Around hundred participants attended the meeting. Speakers at the panel talked about issues ranging from water crisis and climate change to privatisation and remunicipalisation of water and public services. The title of the first part of the panel was “Water for life, not for water cannon vehicle”. First speaker Omer Madra, the director of Açık Radio (Open Radio), talked about climate change and water crisis.  Madra called out for saving the world before it became too late. Then, Arif Nihat Alpsoy, a lawyer from the Environmental Law Association, started his presentation about the current status of right to water in Turkey. Alpsoy explaint some legal texts regarding right to live in a healthy and balanced environment in the Constitution of Turkey, Environmental Impact Assessment and right to water. He  also mentioned the importance of the Water Law draft, what it means for the future and right to water. Alpsoy said that there was neither respect to water, nor the mentioning of right to water in this draft law.

SHK Panel & Forum (2)

The following speaker, Osman Ozguven, the mayor of Dikili/Izmir, talked about the water tariff model that was developed within his municipality. According to this model, each household in Dikili is given water free of charge upto 13 tonnes per month. If the quota is exceeded, citizens pay the entire amount of water consumed according to normal tariff. This way, most residents try to keep their water use under 13 tonnes which result in effective water savings without discrimination of the poor. Besides, with the use of this model water scarcity, which used to be a severe problem in the region, is no longer a problem. Ozguven said that the starting point of this model was the acceptance of right to water as a basic human right. Ozguven said the following: “As water is a human right, it can neither be sold, nor be a commodity to make profit. We have been using this model successfully for the last ten years. Me and my collegues have been taken to court on several occations due to this, but we have continued to give water free”.

SHK Panel & Forum (Gabriella Zanzanaini)

After Ozguven, Gabriella Zanzanaini from Food and Water Europe started to speak. “Bolivia, Uruguay and South Africa have included right to water into their constitutions. In 2010 right to water was accepted by the United Nations. However, Turkey has abstained from this issue” said Zanzaini. She summarised lessons derived from the “Water is a human right” petition campaign held at EU level. The campaign was launched by March 2012 by the European Citizens’ Initiative and last Semptember approximately 1.9 million signatures were collected. Zanzanaini pointed out that a similar petition campaign could be successfull in Turkey saying that “if we work together, we can make it”.

SHK Panel & Forum (5)

Second part of the panel under the name “Water for life, not for corporations” started with Refika Kadioglu from Gola Culture, Art and Ecology Association. Kadioglu talked about the interior obstacles in front of fighting against unsustainable projects such as dams and hydroelectric power plants (HEPPs). Giving some examples from Artvin, a city in the Black Sea region of Anatolia, she pointed at the tension even between the villages. Kadioglu said the following: “we suffer from micro nationalism in Artvin. We, the activists in Istanbul, obviously cannot reach the country side with our current discourse. We should go to the villages and communicate with every individual there. There is no other way than this to build political empowerment from the bottom in the Black Sea region”.

SHK - Panel & Forum (Marcela Olivera 2)

The following speaker, Marcela Olivera from Food and Water Watch Bolivia, talked about the “Cochabamba Water Wars” experience. Olivera said that in 1999 after the privatisation of water services, water bills had increased up to 200 per cent in a couple of weeks. “This was one fourth of the minimum wage by then” indicated she. Then she went on: “The water company Bechtel claimed even the rain that was collected by farmers to irrigate their lands”. Olivera said that Cochabamba movement rapidly expanded to the entire country and evolved from being anti-privatisation of water towards anti-governmental. Olivera went on: “it is never too late for remunicipalisation even if everything was privatised. We, of course, need to remember that public does not mean statisim. It means public participation”.

SHK - Panel & Forum (Akgun Ilhan)

Right after Olivera, Akgun Ilhan from Right to Water Campaign made a speech about the rise of the  bottled water industry in Turkey. Crisis in public water services in Turkey in the 1990’s brought up two options for the Turkish state to chose: either to invest more public fund to improve water infrastuctures, or to leave this mission entirely to private entities. “Unfortunatly Turkey chose the latter path” said Ilhan. That was when drinking water and cleaning water were separated from each other. Ilhan said the following: “starting from this point bottled water sector started to rise, water has become more and more expensive, and its social-ecological costs started have grown. Bottled water industry adds to climate change, water crisis and ecological injustice.  Therefore, combatting them means being against this destructive industry. We start by demanding drinkable tap water in our houses and from public water fountains on our streets”.

SHK - Panel & Forum (Avniye Tansug)

The last panelist Avniye Tansug talked mainly about the evolution of public water fountains in Istanbul. These fountains used to play a central role in social life and city planning. “However, they stopped giving water and have lost their cultural importance gradually” said Tansug. Between 1984 and 1986 Tansug held a campaign with the name “Historical fountains of Istanbul should be saved”. She indicated that the campaign aimed at not only physical restoration of these fountains as urban ornaments, but also reviving the cultural values of these water infrastructures through providing free public water service through them. Indicating that campaign was held three decades ago,  Tansug’s last words were: “now the situation is much worse. To be able to say ‘community’s water belongs to the community’, we need to build new paradigms and strategies”.

SHK Panel & Forum (4)

After the panel, started the forum with many topics indicated by other participants. To bring out  few of the many topics discussed during the forum, Nusret Turkkan from Wildlife Conservation Foundation (DAYKO) stated that what flows now in the Ergene River, in the northwest of Turkey, is everthing but water. “It is called A4 and it is full of toxic chemicals coming without any treatment from industrial structures located all along the river” said Turkkan. According to Turkkan fighting against such contamination requires, first of all, uniting against one common enemy which affects negatively all the country and even the world. He added: “We have built solidarity with the Bulgarian activists just on the other side of the border when protesting unsustainable power plants in both countries. If Having achieved such solidarity with Bulgarians, we can also do this at national level”. Another topic was brought up by Mehmet Sensoy from Food Security Movement throught these words: “bottled water industry continues to produce contaminated water and there is almost no monitoring by any autority in Turkey”. Indicating that this is a great danger to public health, Sensoy warned the authorities to take immediate action. Seda Kansu from an NGO of solidarity with cancer patients with the name Pembe Hanım, also emphasized the link between cancer and the growing use of bottled water. Kansu said: “cancer patients have been uniting all around the world that the pharmaceutical industry has started to take us really seriously. We are becoming more empowered everyday. We can carry out a common campaign with Right to Water Campaign to raise more public awareness on the issue of bottled water and public health”. One of the final speakers was an environmental activist from Iran, Riza Talebi, who explaint the actual situation of the Lake Urmia; which used to be the second largest salty lake in the world. Lake Urmia has been drying out due to many dams constructed on the rivers that feed it with their waters. As the lake dries out, its salt concentration becomes higher and poses a serious danger to not only Iran but also Armenia, Georgia and Turkey in forms of salt storms. Talebi’s words were significant: “Environmental problems do not recognise any borders. Therefore, our struggle should not recognise any borders either. Peoples of Iran, Armenia, Turkey and Georgia should unite and struggle to resolve the problem”.

SHK - Panel & Forum (1)

The forum ended with a call by Right to Water Campaign to authorities in Turkey with the following demands: a) adequate amount of clean and drinkable water for covering basic human needs should be provided free of charge by the municipality; b) laws and regulations that commercialise and privatise water and water services should be abated c) right to water should be included within the Turkish Constitution and finally d) the over damming and construction of the rivers should be stopped.

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