The Water Crisis and the Great Lakes as a Commons

Many thanks to those who showed up at the Institute for Policy Studies office on Friday November 4th or called in to hear Maude Barlow speak about the campaign to establish the Great Lakes as a commons and how this can further the rights of local communities to manage and conserve their water. You can click below to hear the recordings.

For those who may be unfamiliar with her work, Maude is one of the leading experts on the world water crisis that is unfolding. She is the National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians, and she served as Senior Advisor on Water to the President of the UN General Assembly in 2008-9.  Maude is also the co-founder of the Blue Planet Project, which works internationally for the human right to water, and is board chair of the Washington DC-based organization Food & Water Watch. Her advocacy has played a major role in getting the UN to pass the Declaration of the Human Right to Water and Sanitation in 2010.

Listening to Maude talk about the current water situation was both informative and inspiring. In the context of the increasing global inequality and growing number of droughts and floods occurring around the world, Maude’s message was both timely and urgent. She highlighted the critical nature of the current water situation, pointing out that the water companies themselves have published a study saying that by 2030, global demand for water will have outstripped supplies by 40 percent. At the same time, Maude stressed the grave injustice of people dying around the world for lack of water when others make massive profits from it, and the relevance of water in broader resource rights struggles.  As she told our audience:

“(…)Desert is growing in over a hundred countries in the world, absolutely unnecessarily. In places like the Horn of Africa, where the story you’ll read about is too many people, too little rain, bad government, they don’t tell you that there is huge agribusiness and biofuel corporations and land grabs in Africa now that are twice the size of Great Britain, that are taking the best, most accessible water, and using it to grow products to send not only out of the watershed but out of the country.”

Maude Barlow does not leave her listeners feeling desperate or helpless upon hearing these stark facts, though. She wants people to understand the real feasibility and applicability of safeguarding the world’s water by establishing public and local control of our water sources for the public good. She described concretely what successful campaigns around water look like, and how water issues can unite the diverse groups and stakeholders in a community.  Maude gave several examples of local campaigns in North America to take public control of water, and described the campaign to establish the Great Lakes as commons as a concrete model of how this can work.  She makes it clear that human rights and local environmental stewardship intrinsically go hand-in-hand, and sees the commons framework as a practical way to bring the two together.

Second half:


About resource rights project

Seeks to be a clearinghouse for information around resource rights-related issues, to better link and inform. This is a work in progress, more to come.
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