For the last three days, governments, NGOs and other civil society groups have been presenting their positions on Water, Sanitation and Human Settlements. Some of the dialogue has been quite interesting, and also for the first time in a number of years there hasn’t been a specific slot allocated to the Major Groups’ (civil society) statements. There’s been a mixed response to this. The chairs of the plennary sessions have both been quite good at doing what they promissed, and including Major Group responses and comments along with the governments’ statements. On the other hand, this sets a bit of a precedent for future years, and a number of people are concerned that if the chairs of the sessions at future CSDs want, they could easily now exclude civil society input. That would be a huge step backwards, and something we have to avoid.
In terms of the actual issues, I’m finding it rather difficult not having much experience dealing with water, sanitation and human settlements — very much development oriented topics — a long way from the climate change, energy, and environmental justice issues I spent most of my time in Johannesburg fighting for. That said, it’s been useful to be able to really focus my time on supporting everyone else in the youth caucus (many of who know much more than me about these issues) pass on the knowledge I’ve aquired over the last three years, especially to Neela and Elissa who are both representing youth on the official government delegations for the UK and Canada this year.
I’ve also had some really useful conversations with people in the UN Youth Unit about youth involvement in the UN, especially the run up to the Millenium +5 summit in September focussing on the Millenium Development Goals (the theme for Global Village) and also the 60th General Assembly in October. More about that another time.
The draft of the decisions for the CSD was released this morning, and we spent all day going through the document, which was remarkably short; the length alone made me really question how it can possibly represent a plan to sort out three such huge issues. Government delegations and the other Major Groups also spent all day pouring over the document, comparing notes, and looking at how much of what we’ve been calling for made it into the first draft.
I’ll post the Youth Caucus key points first thing tomorrow, but here are a few interesting points to note…
A rights-based approach to water provision is in there. This is something we’re going to have to fight like crazy to keep — many of the governments are against an international agreement that has any language in that could be interpreted as giving people the right to water. It sounds incredible, but it’s true, since the right to water would put some serious brakes on the current privatisation trend, and (potentially) create some issues where water supplies exist across national boundaries. This whole process is supposed to be about cooperating to solve the world’s problems, but in reality the governments do nothing more than stick up for their own best interests.
There is almost no mention of the cross-cutting issues that we’re supposed to be taking into account when looking at all of the themes addressed by CSD. It’s sad, but every year in the youth caucus we seem to be one of the few groups standing up and drawing the governments’ attention to the hugely unsustainable impacts of militarisation. Nowhere could this be more apparent than in the areas of water, sanitation and human settlements, all of which are devistated by war. With climate change, I keep explaining to people how it doesn’t matter what progress we make in a number of the world’s more pressing issues, such as access to safe drinking water, if we don’t start dealing with climate change, but the very same analysis is true of conflict — peace is sustainable, and we’ll be making that point tomorrow.
That brings me nicely onto what’s happening next (although I’ve been writing rather aimlessly because it’s late!) Today we assembled all of the key points we think are missing from the draft decision paper, and tomorrow we have the opportunity to make a brief statement to the governments. Emmanuel from Ghana will make the statement (he’s one of the few representatives from the global south here, thanks to some funding we managed to get to at least have a slightly more representative youth caucus.) We will be focussing on some of the issues I just mentioned, and also putting forward some specific changes we’d like to see in the text.
From then on it’s serious lobbying to get support for our points from as many of the government representatives as possible. If we can get a government to put changes into the final decision document for us (since we can’t input the changes directly, unfortunately) then maybe we can get the commitments from governments to be a bit more progressive. That, and fight to keep the good stuff that’s in there already, which some governments, especially the US, will without doubt try to water down or remove entirely.
So that’s my overview of where things are now. Neela is doing a great job on the UK delegation — although the civil society reps on the UK delegation don’t have as much input as on some other government delegations from what I can tell. It’s great having her here, and having that connection between the Youth Caucus and the UK government.
Here is the draft chairman’s text in full (hold on to your browsers, it’s a few pages…)