Under the current model of globalization, everything is for sale. Areas once considered our common heritage are being commodified, commercialized and privatized at an alarming rate.

Acceptance speech – Tony Clarke

Mr Speaker, honourable guests, friends, we are deeply grateful to the Right Livelihood Award committee for choosing the two of us as joint recipients this year as well as the Swedish Parliament for hosting this ceremony in honour of all of this year’s recipients.

We also wish to thank, in a profound way, Jakob von Uexkull, the founding father of this alternative Nobel prize, who, as we all know, was recently recognized as a European Hero by Time Magazine.

This evening, we humbly accept this award on behalf of our companeiros in the global justice movement, not only in our own country but particularly those from the global South who have taught us so much about what it means to cultivate the dignity, strength and courage that is needed to sustain the struggle for democratic social change over the long haul. Without these wonderful friends and allies, we would not be here today.

We are living in a period of history when the common heritage of both humanity and the earth appears to be under systemic siege. Under the current model of globalization, everything is for sale. Areas once considered our common heritage are being commodified, commercialized and privatized at an alarming rate. Today, more than ever before, the targets of this assault comprise the building blocs of life as we know it on this planet, including freshwater, the human genome, seeds and plant varieties, the air and atmosphere, the oceans and outer space. The assault on, and defence of, the commons is one of the great ideological and social struggles of our times.

In our view, nothing dramatizes the crisis of the commons more clearly than freshwater. After all, water is essential to life itself on this planet. Nothing can exist without direct access to adequate amounts of water — neither human beings, nor plants or vegetation, nor animals. Water is a sacred component of the commons; it belongs to our common humanity, the earth and all living species. It is, therefore, a fundamental human right and a public good that must be protected by governments and communities, not a human need to be supplied by the market on the basis of the ‘ability-to-pay’.

Today, we are on the threshold of a global water crisis. Right now, approximately one third of the world’s population is suffering from water scarcity. If current trends continue, two thirds of the people on the planet will experience water scarcity by the year 2025. The rate of freshwater consumption is doubling every twenty years, twice the rate of population growth. By 2025, worldwide demand for water will outstrip supply of water by an estimated 56 percent. As we massively pollute the world’s surface waters we are mining groundwater far faster than nature can replenish it. The twin realities of growing freshwater shortages combined with deeply inequitable access pose the greatest ecological and human rights threats of our time.

Not surprisingly, given the potential for profits and power from the world’s remaining freshwater stocks, the world’s economic and political power elites have set their sites on the water commons, giving rise to a mighty contest.

On one side are the global water industry, composed of for-profit water service companies and bottled water giants; international financial institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, who have made the privatization of water a conditionality of their loans to Third World countries in the global South; the World Trade Organization, which protects the interests of the water companies through legally binding enforcement measures; and many First World governments, who are promoting the interests of their private corporations over the needs and rights of the world’s people.

On the other side, is a powerful new international grassroots movement made up of small farmers, indigenous peoples, human rights activists, environmentalists, women’s groups, and the inhabitants of thousands of communities around the world fighting for the right to control their local water sources.

It has been our honour to stand with the residents of Orange Farm, South Africa, as they opposed the installation of expensive water meters in their newly delivered water pipes; the tribal communities of Plachimada, India, as they stood up to a global bottling company draining their local water sources; the indigenous peoples of El Alto, Bolivia, as they fought the theft of their mountain water streams by a service transnational; and, bursting with pride, the citizens of Uruguay who last year became the first in the world to successfully vote for a “right to water” constitutional amendment through their national election.

Moreover, we continue to struggle for trade justice, side-by-side with movements of peasants, workers, fishers and other civil society organizations actively resisting the dictates of the World Trade Organization, through our international network known as ‘Our World Is Not For Sale’.

These groups and many, many others, have formed a global resistance to the corporate theft of their water and are leading the way to a water-secure world based on a fundamental set of principles:

  • water sovereignty – that water belongs to the earth and all species and must be understood for all time to be a universal common trust;
  • water justice – that water is a fundamental human right to be distributed equitably as a public service and never appropriated for profit;
  • water conservation – that water must be conserved and renewed, rather than wasted and depleted, and that humanity must once again respect water’s sacred place within the natural world;
  • water quality – that water must not be contaminated, poisoned, and destroyed by industrial and agribusiness practices, a commitment requiring a radical rethinking of water use;
  • and water democracy – that water management decisions must involve local community participation because local stewardship, not private business, expensive technology or government alone, is the best safeguard for a water-secure future.

To date, this global water justice movement and the larger global justice movement of which it is a part, has been mainly focused on building resistance to the corporate takeover of the world’s water.

But this water justice movement is committed to building alternatives as well as resistance. We insist, for example, that an international treaty recognizing water as a human right and public good be ratified to ensure that governments carry out these obligations. Instead of private-public-partnerships, which lead to the corporate takeover of our water systems, we advocate public-community-partnerships in which ownership, control and access with regards to this vital resource remains in the hands of people and their communities.

Finally, we maintain, as Eleanor Roosevelt once declared: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

The growing number of citizens and groups who belong to the water justice movement and the global justice movement at large who are fighting for a water secure future, believe in the beauty of this dream:

  • that the global water crisis will become the source of global peace; that humanity will bow before Nature and learn to cooperate with the limits that Nature gives us and with each other;
  • that through our work together, the peoples of the world will declare the sacred waters of life to be the common property of the earth and all species, to be preserved for future generations and time immemorial.

Thank you!

Tony Clarke
Polaris Institute
Suite 500
180 Metcalfe St.