H.2O: Discussing water with Maude Barlow of the United Nations, part one

Water nourishes every aspect of life on Earth. Most Americans take access to water for granted. The grim reality is that fresh water is getting harder to find.

When communities cannot get clean water, people are often forced to choose between dying of thirst or drinking disease-ridden polluted water. This heartbreaking situation is playing itself out right now all over the world. As water rights involve complex moral, international and legal issues, we sought out answers from an expert in the field of water rights.

Maude Barlow

Sundance Channel had the honor of interviewing Maude Barlow, who is the Senior Advisor on Water to the President of the UN General Assembly. Maude Barlow also chairs the boards of the Council of Canadians and Food and Water Watch.

The interview with Maude Barlow dealt with many environmental issues, but in part one, we will be focusing on her extensive knowledge of water rights.

Question 1: Fresh water has become a dangerously expensive commodity in some third world countries. How would you improve access to clean water?

Maude Barlow: Fresh water is indeed expensive or non-existent in many poor countries. Water should be declared a public trust, in other words, a public service that must be delivered on a not-for-profit basis to all people. If a government is too poor to deliver clean water, the World Bank must put its aid into ensuring the safe delivery of clean water and not into big for-profit private water companies as it is now doing.

Question 2: Does the U.N. do any work regarding international water rights, and if so, would you explain one of the projects related to water rights?

Maude Barlow: The United Nations is seriously considering the human right to water. The UN Human Rights Council has appointed an “Independent Expert” to study and advise it on next steps and many countries of the UN General Assembly are keen to move ahead with a resolution affirming the right to water.

Question 3: Are there any organizations that work on environmental issues, or water rights, that you could recommend to people interested in helping the cause?

Maude Barlow: There are many organizations and networks working on the environmental and human issues around water. They include the African Water Network; the Australian Water Network; the European Water Network; RED Vida (Latin America); Food and Water Watch (U.S.); and the Blue Planet Project (Canada).

Question 4: Has anything significant happened in the clean water access movement in recent months?

Maude Barlow: In recent months, the global water justice movement has continued to grow and thrive. Activists challenged the leaders at the 5th World Water Forum in Istanbul last month (March 2009) for their close ties to the water industry and worked with 25 countries who put forward a counter-declaration to the official summit declaration as the latter had refused to declare water to be a human right.

If you are interested in finding out more about water issues, and want to see a movie that might move you to tears, make sure to watch F.L.O.W (FOR LOVE OF WATER), which premieres April 21 at 10PM on Sundance Channel.

Check back for part two of the Maude Barlow interview and find out what she would do if she had $1 billion.