MEXICO CITY -- An international summit on global water supplies opened yesterday with presidents and princes calling for solutions to shortages and inequalities in the most basic of commodities.
Organizers of the weeklong forum said their goal was to improve water supplies for the poor. But opponents claimed their real mission was privatization.
''Water is a public possession that all governments must guarantee," Mexican President Vicente Fox said in his welcoming speech at the Mexico City convention center, where 11,000 delegates and representatives of about 130 countries met behind closed doors.
But Loic Fauchon, president of the nongovernmental World Water Council, told the 4th World Water Forum that the poor often struggle to obtain decent, affordable water. ''We must stop attempting to solve the problem of water supply on the basis of macroeconomic theories, abstract mathematical models, or inhuman restructuring plans," he said, calling for policies based on ''feeling and solidarity."
Fauchon said developed countries should create a huge investment fund to finance water-system improvements in the world's 50 poorest countries and 20 poorest mega cities.
That demand is growing particularly in developing countries, where many get by on less than 4.5 gallons of water per day.
But past efforts to remedy the problems have failed. Speaking at the summit opening, Prince Naruhito of Japan acknowledged that ''little progress has been made despite continuous efforts by many people."
Many nongovernmental organizations and environmental activists have complained about campaigns to privatize water systems, an approach meant to upgrade systems through private investment -- but that sometimes leads to rate increases.
Thousands of Bolivians protested higher water fees after foreign companies took over water companies there. Seven people died and the companies were forced out of the country.
Bottled water, on the other hand, has earned good profits and little attention. ''It's in some way sort of a stealth privatization," said Janet Larsen, research director for the Earth Policy Institute, a private, Washington-based environmental group. Larsen noted that the biggest gains in bottled water sales are in developing countries.
Mexico -- where about 40 percent of the nation's 103 million residents live in poverty -- is now the second-largest consumer of bottled water in the world, just behind the United States in terms of volume and behind Italy in per capita consumption.
Dominated in many regions by giants like
It's not because people can suddenly afford the luxury; it's that the tap water in some countries is so bad that people are loath to use it, sometimes even for bathing.