Water area

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L'eau, un
don à
honorer et à
protéger, un
symbole de




Jan Slakov is
president of
She also works
with the peace
movement and is
working to see
that the
peace and
movements learn
from each other
and work well
Contact info:
Box 35,
Nova Scotia, CA
B0W 3T0 
(902) 837-4980



















To sign on to the Cochabamba Declaration, click here.

Water, a Gift to Honour
& Protect, a Symbol of

Jan Slakov

Enviro-Clare, president

August 2001


s Maude Barlow pointed out in her article on water ethics, "Global consumption of water is doubling every 20 years, more than twice the rate of human population growth." 1 The push to privatize water supplies is surely linked to the increasing demands for and destruction of safe drinking water.

(photo taken at Eskasoni, N.B.,  NBEN)

Some say that it makes sense to privatize water supplies so people will be less wasteful. But this argument simply doesn't hold water :) - look at how much fossil fuel gets wasted even though we pay for it. Indian scientist, feminist and respected activist Vandana Shiva has pointed out that, "the moment you let the market determine the situation, all that will happen is that the swimming pool of the rich will get a higher priority over the drinking water of the poor." 2 While privatization is a bad idea, intelligent pricing of water can help prevent it from being wasted.

Clearly, we humans need to respect and value water more, and find ways to pollute it less and to protect the earth's fragile supplies of fresh water. We need to become conscious of where our water comes from and where it goes once we have used it. To do this, it is best to make decisions about water on a local scale and in a democratic manner.

This conclusion was reached by people in Bolivia, who successfully revolted against the privatization of their water. Here is their declaration:


The Cochabamba Declaration:

"For the right to life, for the respect of nature and the uses and traditions of our ancestors and our peoples, for all time the following shall be declared as inviolable rights with regard to the uses of water given us by the earth:

1) Water belongs to the earth and all species and is sacred to life, therefore, the world's water must be conserved, reclaimed and protected for all future generations and its natural patterns respected.

2) Water is a fundamental human right and a public trust to be guarded by all levels of government, therefore, it should not be commodified, privatized or traded for commercial purposes. These rights must be enshrined at all levels of government. In particular, an international treaty must ensure these principles are noncontrovertible.

3) Water is best protected by local communities and citizens who must be respected as equal partners with governments in the protection and regulation of water. Peoples of the earth are the only vehicle to promote earth democracy and save water." 3


Water, so essential to life, is symbolic of all the gifts of the earth, gifts that we arrogantly call "natural resources" as if nature were there to provide us with the resources for our ends.

Water has also been seen as a symbol of active nonviolence. Len Desroches' marvelous book on "anger, fear, power, work, sexuality, community - and the spirituality and practice of nonviolence" is entitled Allow the Water.

Last April, at the Quebec FTAA summit protest, I was invited to join a group which calls itself "The Living River" and which tries to bring a constructive, nonviolent energy to such protests. This group, one of whose leaders is the well-known novelist and activist Starhawk, brought with it copies of the Cochabamba declaration to present to the summit, if we had been successful in getting to that meeting. As can be imagined, we did not make it to the summit, for the fence and police, under orders to violate even basic rights, prevented that. I was lucky enough to be with "The Living River" when it met up against a police blockade at the end of a dead end in old Quebec. The police were ready to fire their tear gas on us, but, probably because they could see we were organized to behave non-violently, they held off. Someone in our group read out the declaration to the police and one woman tried to present it to an officer. He replied through clenched teeth, "We can't take it." I hope he and other members of the force are rethinking whether or not they intend to obey the kinds of orders they are under at these summits.

(photo: Living River Group) 

The Sierra River

I believe that our movement must have as one of its goals: to convince and communicate with all people, even those who may appear to be our "enemies", such as the police. It is important that we articulate not only what we are AGAINST, but what we are FOR. For the "Living River" at the FTAA summit, the Cochabamba Declaration represented what we were struggling for.

If all we manage to do is rail out against something, our protest will create a kind of vacuum which will only be able to suck in what already exists, in other words, essentially the same thing which we are supposedly opposed to. As we create something new, something more appropriate, then we can legitimately push aside the old, because it will truly be replaced by something better.

Nonviolence is not just something we bring out for special occasions, like protests. It is a way of life and it can infuse our whole life with meaning and make even everyday events become part of the struggle, part of what we hope is a joyous struggle. That is why "nonviolence" is a rather inadequate term. Nonviolence is not just the absence of violence, it is the presence of caring, commitment and maybe the faith that simply living, as we feel it is right and well to live, is actually more important than "winning" the struggle. I like the way Len Desroches describes it. He used the word "dunamis" or inner spiritual power (as opposed to "exousia", an external, socially sanctioned power or authority).

He wrote: "The Nuremburg principles re-stated that every single person has dunamis - inner spiritual power to act in the face of legal state-sanctioned evil." (p. 62)

"Dunamis shapes and nourishes our bodies and the One Body. As we have the power to not allow the water to flow, so too can we block our own inner current - this spring deep inside us. Allow it to flow. Even though, like water, this inner source of life and power is sometimes barely noticeable, it is nevertheless already there. Allow the water!"
(p. 475)4

By Maude Barlow, Chair, IFG (International Forum on Globalization) Committee on the Globalization of Water, National Chair, Council of Canadians. June 1999

2. InterPress Service
DEVELOPMENT: Poorest Countries Call For Right to Water
By Gareth Harding BRUSSELS, June 12 (IPS) -

3. quoted in "The Bridge At Midnight Trembles: My Story of Quebec City"
by Starhawk <stella@mcn.org>

4. Allow the Water. To order contact Len Desroches,
407 Bleeker St., Toronto, ON M4X 1W2
Telephone: (416) 975-4897  Fax: (416) 515-1515.