Rio Dialogues offers a public debate on the critical topic “Water”, currently on at Rio Centro. Dialogues is a public direct democratic initiative by the Brazilian government as their contribution to RIO+20. Within the main auditorium I found a highly diverse and young crowd of approximately 1, 000 delegates and representatives of all walks of life, from around the world — a rowdy crowd that is alive and present. Good!
The former president of Brazil who presided over Rio 1992 was booed out when honored. Right thereafter, the top Chief Sustainability Officer of Coca Cola spoke — and the electricity in the room was palpable. Nobody booed, maybe because his speech is very correct? Was it too dull to be insulting? And what about the need to walk the talk?
The session offered an important outcome and is important as we selected three recommendations from the 10 most voted items through a democratic process, over a period of 10 days. Much of the energy focused on the pre-sentiment that government is trying to distance itself from its 2010 declaration on the right of water for everybody. $
The choices ranges from securing access to water, implementing the right to water, improving water sanitation, and ensuring the education of children. In contrast to yesterday’s People’s Summit at Flamenco Park, the urgency and the importance of Rio Dialogues is palpable. It is my generation who are here: many young faces and at least half of them women!
I wonder. Have I finally found a place where people want to meet to change the world?
It is difficult to find the list of the panel in the maze of RIO+20 and I am lacking references here. A high-level African quotes an important saying: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together, “ to express his hopes for RIO+20. He suddenly stops mid-phrase when the King of Sweden steps in with his guards and joins the audience. Shortly thereafter, proceedings take a more serious turn as Mohamed Munif talks about water contamination in Bangladesh.
The representative of the World Water Council wants engagement, not just words. They demand that all countries in the world inscribe the right to water in their constitutions. Today, only a single nation has done so. They also demand that as of tomorrow no single school should be without a water tap and toilets.
Currently, 60% of African schools are without access to water. Further, they want action to ensure that not only food but also water is provided to disaster areas. We must also restore the safety of water to the levels we inherited from our ancestors. Water security founds the very basis of human survival, after all. It is estimated that by 2020 the world will need 45% more water than today — a frankly terrifying statistic. According to the rule of 3, only oxygen is more important to human survival than water.
890 million people currently don’t have access to safe drinking water.
The UNCG Corporate Sustainable Forum is also under attack: the trade union representative accused corporations of failing on all three pillars of sustainability: economy, social and environment. He turns to his fellow panelist from Coca Cola and says: “I cannot believe that Coca Cola will ever agree not to want to sell more Coke!”
A lady from India raises the challenge by stating that her country faces a 79% increase in water needs, while simultaneously facing a reduction of over 40% in the next decade. 2 billion have no access to sanitation and this impacts mostly women in the global South. She clarifies that the solutions of the North do not work for the South.
In India the daily water consumption is around 18 liter per capita (lpc). In China water needs will rise to 80–100 lpc over the next decade. In contrast, the USA uses 570 lpc today, which may go be reduced to 440 lpc at best, but such consumption levels are far from a sustainable future. She insists on home-grown solutions based on ancient wisdom from the global South.
“There is enough for everybody’s needs but not enough for anybody’s greed” (Gandhi).
After introductions, Jeff Seabright of Coca Cola is put in the hot seat: “Can we reconcile economic growth with the needs of water, and if so how?” Somewhat unsurprisingly he does not expand beyond a politically correct but otherwise irrelevant answer.
Munif suggests that beyond forcing governments, we need widespread citizen engagement to ensure the right to water and sanitation locally. He also connects the importance of the water issue with global warming and raising sea levels which endanger many regions, particularly Bangladesh.
Two indigenous women from Mexico turn the atmosphere distinctly chilly when they point out the lack of consideration and consultation in decision-making process concerning water. A 13-year old indigenous girl asks for clear strategies on how to ensure that this will be assured.
The audience then selects to implement the right to water as their first priority. The bigger question of course is what exactly government will do with this decision. The current update is that no consensus will be reached, with only 40% of the draft having even been discussed, with zero agreement achieved to date.
Tomorrow, the top government negotiations with the heads of states begin.