WDM in East Africa: reports from the World Social Forum and Tanzania

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

Water at the World Social Forum

It’s been an exhausting, action-packed few days at the WSF. The stadium where it is being held is large and dusty; temperatures have been high and Nairobi’s altitude means the sun really beats down on us. There are now many sunburnt faces amongst the fair-skinned participants!

For the most dedicated, you could choose to attend all 4 sessions a day, each of 2 or 3 hours, from 8.30am through to 8pm. All issues under the sun are being discussed: to give you a flavour, at 11.30am today, you could have gone to sessions on participatory democracy in the Middle East; the impacts of oil on development; or collective bargaining strategies – or about 100 other topics. It can be hard to decide how to spend your time (and very easy to get lost!)

This morning I went to a session on rural water provision, organised by colleagues. As many anti-privatisation campaigners and advocates for public water come from urban backgrounds, the issue of rural provision can sometime be forgotten in our debates. This session aimed to rectify this balance. Some very inspiring examples of public and community water systems were presented with experiences from the Philippines, Kenya and Senegal presented.

Cheikh Diop is President of the Senegalese Association to Protect the Environment and he told us how, after his government signed a peace agreement in 2004 with rebels who had been waging war since 1981, there was a critical need to improve access to water in rural areas. Many people had left the rural areas and gone to The Gambia to escape the fighting and rural water provision needed urgent rehabilitation.

Several newly-returned communities started to self-manage their water resources and with help form Cheikh’s association, pipes were laid to serve hundreds of families in the area. Cheikh emphasised how important women were in this process, both to demand a halt to the fighting in the first place, and to play a key role in managing the water supplies.

I also had a meeting with Grace Akumu, Director of Climate Network Africa, based in Nairobi (after she'd been interviewed for TV). We compared our different campaigning strategies and found we had lots in common, especially in terms of seeing the links between climate and development issues. She told me that we must work together for our common goals: “We are suffering the consequences of others through climate change. People in the UK must put lots of pressure on the Tony Blairs of this world. The leaders must put their money where there mouth is and fulfil their financial and political obligations to us.”

PS Last night we had a packed out meeting to discuss the possibility of an African Water Network – there was a huge amount of enthusiasm in the room for the idea; it looks it may be getting off the ground…

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