Résumé of the workshop Water and Migration in a Globalised World

at the Strasbourg Noborder Camp, 25th of July 2002

The workshop consisted of a brainstorm session about different lines of analysis (subheadings in the "Concept" part) and then went on to think about the collective effort that we hope will derive from this workshop. The hope was to extend this résumé into a generally developed and shared document by discussing the already existing contents, developing new aspects and spreading it out as widely as possible. So that many diverse points of views and experiences can find expression. This document then would turn into a collective document on water, possibly as part of the sustained campaign on water by Peoples Global Action. The collective orientation was put toward developing a first concept that can be presented and discussed at the PGA conference in Leiden at the end of August with the aim to create a wider network of social movements that share ideas and experiences about their waters.

In addition, great emphasis was put on extending this concept with actual practical tools. Tools that would permit an immediate exchange and support on water-related activities and put into action the common concepts around water. That this was a crucial part for any future activity became clear when we realised that even the water on the Noborder camp was provided by Vivendi, without us having any direct, practical response to that(apart from not paying it).

We also would like to remind that the concept and tools are fundamentally outcomes of Western-based experiences. This is why we hope that many people from all around the world will get involved and change this bias!

1. Concept

The idea behind this was to create a mutual exchange of experience from different realities that can lead to mutual aid between diverse realities, struggles and actors. A cunning, even though rather black and white, conception would be a two-way-exchange between North and South: From the South, the still existing social and cultural connection to natural resources in many spaces can be fundamental for struggles in the North, where people tend to be rather apathetic about their water resources as long as the tab keeps running and bottled water is available. The North could share the experiences with industrialisation of water in general, privatisation, and PPP. A few major themes of such a common concept on fresh water resources have been outlined and we have hoped that we can extend and enhance the following points by a future process of exchange, discussion, and consensus, in which we hope many more people will get involved.


The discourse on scarcity has to be evaluated critically for its domination by corporate-led research, standard-setting and solution-finding. The discourse might well be a trap put up by international water corporations to gain public acceptance for their activities. This discourse uses a needs approach to justify their practices; where there is millions thirsty (need), there should be a market to solve that (supply!).

Apart from the critique about this, it must be of urgent interest to understand what actual scarcity, there is in different settings and localities, and how these are perceived. Only from such a deliberation can we hope to find methods to tackle the existing inequalities, mal-distributions and so forth that are so characteristic of today's picture of water scarcity.

In general, it seems as if there are three different types of scarcity. The first is the long-term, natural situation in a given geological area to which people have adopted over time. The next can be pinned down to climate change and its entailing change of local habitats, and the third can be named by its name: the global market with its corporate practices, misconduct and profiteering in the course of development practice.

It was acknowledged that the scarcity and the local perception of this need to be identified by social movements. Therefore, a few (not exhaustive) questions have been put forward:

What do indigenous people around the world think about their water situations?

Why do many local farmers, especially in India, actually support grandiose dam construction plans? Are they simply being misinformed or do they have stakes in the game?

Why do people in different regions of the world have different attitudes towards their waters?

In Western countries for example, the technological and financial situation permits to find new solutions to scarcity, like building two sets of tube systems, one for drinking water and another for utility uses. What approaches can be found in other, poorer settings?



An example mentioned during the workshop was that of a river in Colombia where a dam closed the possibility of local fishermen to sustain their families from the river. But not only was the food chain broken by the massive dam walls, but also did it make money necessary for the locals as they had to cross the river, whose access was privatised. So the local people were inevitable pushed away from their previous way of living, were made to use money where it was not needed before. A process that eventually will push them into the cities to find a job as wage labourer. Here, the general discussion focused on the consequences to local communities rather than the already well-known arguments against big dams.


France was seen as the prime example to show how corporate practices disadvantage the people and destroy the environment. The outcome is general overpricing, which in allows for investment into other sectors (Vivendi and its extension into the media). It was argued that the French model was not a social model but a model of empire. There are many different means and ways to privatise water resources and their provision. There will be a strong necessity to actually look at every single one of these in order to develop on overview picture of the situation.

The German situation with its Stadtwerke was specifically mentioned and will need further deliberation.

Cochabamba was discussed for its significance in the struggle against privatisation.


Example of Canada or Central and South America, where extensive Eucalyptus plantations are being forced onto the farmers, as they are heavily indebted. It is already clear that these Eucalyptuses will destroy the farmland. But Eucalyptus grows quickly and is therefore profitable even though it needs so much water that it is for example being used to dry up wetlands in Canada. So when planted in great quantities anywhere but their natural habitats, Eucalyptus destroys, dries out, the soil, for example in South America. As soon as international logging corporations have cashed in on the wood in a few years, the farmers will be left without means of livelihood as their land has become arid and unproductive and will have to move into the cities. This process is actually intended as it frees labour forces for industrialisation in maquiladoras.

Water Apartheid

The situation in South Africa, Johannesburg, Privatisation of city waters.


Concentration of power

Monopoly comes about via privatisation and state control and is very obvious in cases such as Monsanto's grasp for control over the food chain (seeds) and over fresh water resources.

Clearly, the issues go beyond mechanisms of privatisation such as full-cost recovery and include transnational business practices, World Bank and IMF policies, international trade agreement such as the GATS, international trade in fresh water etc..

Control over the population

The French fresh water is a good example of how a monopoly can be used to sustain state control; this time, as so often, over "terrorists" who might attack the French population via the fresh water pipes. Possible biological attacks are prevented by putting Chlorine into the water. The population was not informed in any proper way.

The question that is raised by this discussion about power relations around and through water, is in how far the States and corporations like Vivendi are effectively different, equal or even the very same agents struggling to get control over water, or not.

Another case is bottled water and its relation with tab water. Where both are owned by the same corporation, the tab water is less profitable and so there is no "market" incentive for the corporation to actually improve the quality of fresh water services because it means that more people will buy bottled water instead, which has a very high profit margin indeed.

The situation in Palestine is also heavily determined by the distribution of fresh water resources. Allocation is determined by Israeli settlements and industry in the occupied territories. Compared to Israelis, Palestinians use only a tenth of the amount of water per capita. This is due to the imbalanced relations of power and military forces in the region.

Also, water control is a strong military tool in the hands of the Israelis. For example, as the recent occupation of Bethlehem and Ramallah proceeded, the Isrealis also cut of water supply for these cities in order to quench resistance.

But such an unequal allocation and distribution of water can also be determined between say, the city centres and the banlieues in France. So the actual imbalanced distribution is happening everywhere, following the respective logics of the place and moment. The poor and powerless get less, the powerful and rich enjoy abundance. This disadvantages huge parts of the populations which, as is the case in Palestine, have to struggle daily to get enough water, not to speak about creating significant industry or so forth. Water Apartheid is put in place, which divides people through this "low-level" violence directed against Palestinians.

Drying out of dissent and resistance

It is fundamental to understand that total control over water resources means total control over groups of people as the monopoly can effectively dry them out. So threatens to happen in the Chiapas region of Mexico and so already is happening in Bio Bio Alto in Chile! It was a notion of all participants that water is effectively a powerful tool to control social movements, indigenous, peoples and dissent.

A wet future

At the same time as water is a strong weapon to subjugate or suppress dissenting communities, it also can be a great tool for their liberation and emancipation.

Water can be used as a theoretical and practical link between territorial control, autonomy over once' resources and the collective and directly democratic allocation of those. The human rights approach (water as a human right) is only a very weak proposition as it does not challenge the market and requires States to act in favour of it. Instead, autonomy, self-governance, and mutual aid should be the basis for any future use of natural resources.

2. Tools

We have had a few initial ideas about what can be done right now. The first emphasis was put on interconnecting different struggles around the globe. A second issue was the urgent need to practically support struggles around the world. A first item there was pointed out as being the support for struggles against ALCA and the connected Plan Puebla Panama.

Email List

We created the following email list and invite all interested people and groups to join: waterATriseup.net.

People may subscribe to the list by sending email to water-subscribeATlists.riseup.net

Web Space

We identified the need for a hub of exchange of experience, discussion and linkage of different struggles. Clearly, this should not be on top of the already existing web spaces around water (such as irn.org) but an additional tool that so far does not exist.

For that purpose, there already is a web page designed by activists in France which can be incorporated into this. In addition, the "global action archive"! offers a space for this newly just beginning, differentiated approach to water from then perspective of social movements: www.all4all.org/water/index.shtml. The software is based on Indymedia and will allow open publishing, discussions, newswires and so forth. The idea is to develop this into a hub for social movements to create a network around the world.

Campaigns in Central and South America

Video Project

A few people have had the idea to produce a video on water as a long-term project. In addition, there is the possibility that they also create a video in a shorter time period which can then be used to demonstrate the detrimental effects of dam-building to Central and Southern American indigenous communities.

Travel Project

Someone mentioned a project to support and safeguard local communities in Colombia.

3.The road ahead

This document

will first of all go around the list as a draft paper. So that all those that have participated in the workshop can put together their ideas in a more coherent manner.

-----!!!This will mean that all of us really try to engage in this process and rewrite this incomplete draft. (look at the part of privatisation for example...) And send it back onto the list, so that we can then synthesise the outcomes into one document. The email list has a shared document function. So we can all post our work (previous works!!!, new documents and also our commented and filled-in résumés...).

This document should be focused onto the following basic questions:

Leiden conference

Preparation for the conference: The hope is to collectively develop a content for workshops and presentations at the conference through the work on this document.

At the conference: Put this paper to open debate and connect this with other PGA related debates around structure and strategy of PGA.

Outcome: Will hopefully be the linking up different realities and actors, providing information and through these create a broader network that can then enforce the conceptual debate and create stronger tools.


How can we practically support other struggles? Small practical things...Fund Raising, Solidarity Actions, Linking Water Issues with the Season of Action...

Dates and Places of related events around the world (very incomplete!!)

World Water Forum, Japan March 2003

Johannesburg Conferenc Rio +10

Expectations of this initiative:

(please feel free to express yourself!!)

Include the New Mediterranean Plan into our considerations.

Sustained Campaigns | Water | PGA