Brussels/Berlin, March 22, 2001 – When environment ministers will meet today in Berlin at a trade and sustainable development meeting [1], groups around the world will call on them to recognise access to water as a right for all on World Water Day. This call comes when talks on service liberalisation in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) are in full swing and water is discussed as a new issue of trade and investment liberalisation to fall under strict WTO disciplines and rules.

Water is becoming increasingly scarce in many regions of the world and millions of people do not have access to safe drinking water. These problems will be exacerbated as water supply rapidly becomes privatised with large multinational water companies advocating the commodification of public water supplies, including of drinking water. Estimates place the world-wide water and wastewater business at between USS$ 300 and $ 800 billion annually (World Bank).

The EU and business lobby groups are currently proposing collection and distribution of water services as part of General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) negotiations in the WTO. This is raising serious concerns among non-governmental organisations from all over the world. Market access commitments could limit the right of governments to restrict quantities of water collected from lakes, rivers and ground waters sources Friends of the Earth warned today.

Alexandra Wandel, trade co-ordinatior of Friends of the Earth Europe: ‘Equitable and fair access to drinking water is a basic human right. It is inappropriate and unacceptable for social rights and basic needs to be constrained by WTO rules. Thus GATS must not apply to issues critical to human or planetary welfare, such as water. Governments need to reject the EU proposal of liberalisation of public water supplies. The public sector and governments need to ensure the proper allocation of water within countries and across borders.’

NGOs from around the world have launched a statement this week, called ‘Stop the GATS Attack’[2]. Signed by more than 200 groups from over 40 countries they call for a moratorium to the new GATS negotiations. They want GATS to be the subject of broad public debate with a thorough and independent assessment of economic, social and environmental impacts.
Friends of the Earth groups from Latvia to Costa Rica will today launch activities to highlight their work on water issues.

Friends of the Earth Costa Rica will represent the National Federation of Environmentalist Groups to officials at a public debate held in the Costa Rican Parliament. The group‘s presentation will lay emphasis on the costs of increasing privatization of water, the need to reverse this trend and ensure access and control of water for local communities in Costa Rica [3].

Gabriel Rivas-Ducca, campaigner at Friends of the Earth Costa Rica: “We are strongly critical of the appropriation of water by private forces in Costa Rica. Water resources are under attack from different sides and forces: environmental pollution and economic power. Uncontrolled expansion of dams, conflicts between local communities and transnational hotel chains in our dry tropical areas and the threat of oil exploration in front of our Caribbean Coast all threaten the rights and the environment of Costa Ricans.”

For further information:
Alexandra Wandel, Friends of the Earth Europe Trade Co-ordinator:
00 49 172 7483953 (mob in Germany)

Daniel Mittler, BUND (Friends of the Earth Germany),
International Co-ordinator : 00 49 30 275 86 468

Howard Mollett, Friends of the Earth Europe,
Press & Information: 0032 2 542 01 89

Note for editors:
[1] The ministerial meeting on environment, sustainable development and trade is hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme and the German Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU). Main objectives of the Ministerial Meeting are to discuss areas of mutual concern in the environment, development and trade debate and to enhance awareness on trade and environment linkages and implications for sustainable development.

[2] The joint NGO GATS statement can be found on the web at (statement in german)

[3] FoE Costa Rica will use as a propose framework, the ten basic principles for protecting water as proposed by the International Forum on Globalization: