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September 27, 2017

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Ministers from around globe urge Rio Summit to take on water crisis

MARSEILLE, France--Over 100 countries on Tuesday urged the upcoming Rio Summit to speed action on providing the poor with access to clean water and sanitation and fix worsening problems of water scarcity and pollution.

But their declaration was opposed by left-wing Bolivia as failing to enshrine the principles of social justice, the right to water and care for the environment, and activists derided the arena where it was issued as a trade fair.

"We commit to accelerate the full implementation of the human rights obligations relating to access to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation by all appropriate means as a part of our efforts to overcome the water crisis at all levels," a communique said.

The five-page statement, endorsed by 130 national representatives including 84 ministers, was issued at the World Water Forum, a six-day event gathering policymakers, businesses and water experts.

It also sketched aims for tackling water stress through better management and investment and for improving environmental custodianship of the precious resource.

It called for these aims to "be widely disseminated in relevant (forums), including the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development," the formal name for the June 20-22 follow-up to the 1992 Rio Summit.

The declaration was backed by a petition with 130,000 signatures organized by Solidarites Internationales, a French group, which demanded access to water for the poor.

But the communique was contested by Bolivian Environment and Water Minister Felipe Quispe Quenta.

According to journalists who attended the ministerial plenary, his microphone was cut off, purportedly for time reasons, after he said the text did not include clear references to social justice and the right to water.

"We expressed our disagreement when the statement was being drafted and we were not heard. Bolivia does not go along with this ministerial declaration," the minister said to reporters after the session.

A Canadian NGO, the Council of Canadians, described the Water Forum, held every three years, as "the Davos of Water ... a non-democratic forum run by multinational water corporations."

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of a small U.S. NGO, Food and Water Watch, said the Forum was viewed with suspicion by many grass-roots organizations on water, sustainable development and the environment.

"I think there is no interest (here) in having a debate or dialogue," she told AFP.

"We have a trade fair that is being promoted as a ministerial, but what we really need is the U.N. to take hold of the process. We cannot have the water industry dictate the issues."

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