Friday, March 20, 2009 | Categories: Episodes
Today's guest host was Joseph Boyden for a special World Water Day edition of the Current.
It's Friday, March 20th.
Turkish police have been using water cannons to disperse crowds of protesters at the World Water Forum in Istanbul.
Currently, activists report that the irony is tasteless but remarkably refreshing.
This is the Current.
World Water Forum - Barlow
The theme of the fifth World Water Forum is "Bridging Divides for Water." But the organizers are going to have to start with the divides at the forum itself. On Monday, twenty-six protesters were arrested and three were allegedly injured as they sparred with police at the forum's opening in Istanbul, Turkey.
Every three years, thousands of delegates from the worlds of government, business, science and civil society get together to talk about global water issues. And this year's forum comes amidst some dire news from the United Nations. According to the U.N., 1.1 Billion people in the developing world don't have access to clean drinking water. 2.6 Billion don't have adequate water for sanitation. And those numbers are likely to get worse thanks to growing populations and climate change.
So you'd think it would be an ideal time for the World Water Forum's stated mission -- "find solutions to achieve water security." But water activists fear there's another agenda at work. The forum's main organizer is the World Water Council, a body that is largely made up of big, private water companies like Suez and Veolia. And the protesters say the forum's real purpose is to push for the privatization of water supplies.
Maude Barlow is one of the people sounding the alarm. She's the National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians and the Senior Advisor on Water to the President of the United Nations General Assembly. She was in Istanbul, Turkey.
World Water Forum - Bob Sandford
We approached the World Water Council for a comment on this issue. The council did not respond to our requests. But there are those who think the protests against the privatization of water supplies are misguided. Caroline Boin is among them. She's a research fellow at the International Policy Network, a development think tank in London, England. We aired a clip with what she had to say about the protests.
Now Caroline Boin did acknowledge that there can be big problems when governments engage in contracts with private companies ... especially if the process isn't fully transparent or if the laws that govern the deals aren't tight enough.
The situation in Cochambamba in Bolivia is often held up by water activists as an example of privatization gone wrong ... as well as the triumph of the commons since ultimately, control over the water was given back to the public. But according to Caroline Boin, Cochambamba isn't a typical example and things didn't improve after the water was put back in public hands.
For his thoughts on balancing the costs and benefits of getting private companies involved in water supplies, we were joined by Bob Sandford. He's the Chair of the Canadian Partnership Initiative of the United Nations Water for Life Decade. He's also the author of Water, Weather and the Mountain West and he was in Canmore, Alberta.
Water on Reserves - Former Chief
Across Canada, most people take clean drinking water for granted. But not if you live on a First Nations reserve. As of January 31st, there were 107 boil water advisories on reserves across Canada. The most notorious example in recent memory was in the northern Ontario community of Kashechewan on James Bay. The water treatment plant was downstream from sewage lagoons. And problems with the plant resulted in the community's drinking water being contaminated by e. coli. Eventually, the community was evacuated in October, 2005. We aired a clip with how regional Chief Angus Toulouse described the water problems at the time.
Fort Albany is just a few kilometers up the Albany River from Kashechewan. And for the latest on the water conditions in that area, we were joined by Ed Metatawabin. He's the former Chief of the Fort Albany Cree Nation in northern Ontario.
Yellow Quill Water
Unfortunately, the drinking water problems Fort Albany and Kashechewan have faced are far from unique, whether you're talking about communities under boil water advisories or others where the water is safe, but still awfully to drink or bathe in.
But the Yellow Quill First Nation in east-central Saskatchewan is proof that the water situation can be improved dramatically with the right investment. The band has a custom-designed treatment plant producing water of remarkable purity. The CBC's David Shield has spent some time there, and he joined us from Prince Albert.
Water on Reserves - Hans Peterson
Hans Peterson has spent a lot of time working on water quality issues on reserves all over Canada, including the Yellow Quill First Nation. He's the Executive Director of the Safe Drinking Water Foundation. He's also been involved in meetings that the federal government has been holding on water quality standards on First Nations. And Hans Peterson was in La Ronge, Saskatchewan.
First Nations Drinking Water - INAC
And for the federal government's perspective on things, we were joined by Karl Carisse. He's the Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Community Infrastructure Branch of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, or INAC. He was in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Water and Cities
People talk about our highways as arteries, as if cars are our blood. But I think it makes for sense to think of water and rivers as our blood and veins, even if sometimes they're hidden from our view. And even if they're very sick, like Toronto's Don River. Because how healthy can our cities be when we're not looking after our rivers and the water that flows through them - and us? I'm on my way to meet Wayne Reeves. He's a project manager with the Parks and Recreation Department of Toronto, and he's co-edited the book, HTO: Toronto's Water From Lake Iroquois to Lost Rivers to Low-Flow Toilets.
Artist: Chris Velan
Cut: CD2 "Long Way from Home"
CD: "Twitter, Buzz, Howl"
Label: Maple Music
Spine #: MM1101
Phone a Friend - Gord Downie
Here at The Current, Friday Hosts are often asked to get out their little black book and phone up a friend. Now a few minutes ago, I mentioned the changes that have been made to the Navigable Waters Protection Act ... changes that could put some of the country's waterways at risk. It's something I feel very strongly about. And so does my pal, Gord Downie. You probably know him as the lead singer of the Tragically Hip. But he's also my colleague with Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, and he was on the phone.
Last Word - New Orleans is Sinking
We ended the program this week with a song that kind of ties everything together ... for me at least. A song by Gord Downie's band, the Tragically Hip ... a song about New Orleans, my adopted home and most importantly, a song about the perils of ignoring the importance of the water all around you ... New Orleans is Sinking.