Protestors and world leaders all together at the 5th water forum

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Protestors and world leaders all together at the 5th water forum
Oluşturulma Tarihi: Mart 17, 2009 00:00

ISTANBUL - The 5th World Water Forum, being held at the Sütlüce Culture and Conference Center on the Golden Horn, is not all calm seas. The forum kicked off with two protests, one near the conference center and one in Beyoğlu. Some protestors were detained.

The 5th World Water Forum began with scenes of chaos yesterday with Turkish police firing teargas on 100 or so protesters and arresting 17.

Istanbul is hosting the global water forum, one that comes with obstacles inherent to a forum of this nature, such as counter demonstrations from dissenters and heightened security for the high-profile attendees of the conference.

While thousands were flooding into the Sütlüce Culture and Conference Center to take part in the World Water Forum, a group of people gathered to protest it in front of the Beyoğlu Court House. The protesters from the "No to Water Privatization" Platform, made up of both Turkish and foreign members of nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, were stopped by police forces after they opened posters that read, "Water is Life, It Can’t be Sold" and "Access to Water for Everyone."

Security in Istanbul has been heightened to accommodate the long list of world leaders who are expected to make an appearance at the Sütlüce Culture and Conference Center, where the forum is taking place. An extra 5,000 police officers were deployed to ensure tight security around the conference center on the Golden Horn.

Several boats transported attendees to the registrations desks at the Sütlüce Culture and Conference Center and the Feshane tents. Taking off from the Çırağan Palace Hotel, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Prince Albert II of Monaco, Prince Naruhito Kotaishi of Japan and parliament members and other government officials stepped aboard a special boat, named "Big Green Island," to attend the forum in Sütlüce.

All water and vehicular traffic around the Golden Horn was stopped while the visiting dignitaries were taken to the conference. Attendees trying to catch the opening ceremony were left on the other side of the Golden Horn, and the entrances were blocked for security reasons. A captain from the boats said this was a security measure and that traffic resumed once the ministers and princes were inside the building.

Turkish President Abdullah Gül, one of the first state officers to arrive in Sütlüce, faced a big demonstration as he entered the Haliç conference hall. Attendees from the International Rivers, made up of environmentalist volunteers, opened a banner against the construction of dams that read. "Dams: Dirty Business." The protesters, who were supporting the "Alternative Water Forum," organized as an opposing forum to the 5th World Water Forum, were taken into custody right away. They were going to be deported, but at the last minute other NGO members found lawyers to defend the protesters. They were kept in custody.

President welcomes guests

Gül welcomed the guests in the conference center along with Environment Minister Veysel Eroğlu, Istanbul Gov. Muammer Güler and Mayor Kadir Topbaş, and gave a much-anticipated speech. In his speech, Gül said we have entered a time where the fates of all people across the world are strongly interlocked. No one is in a position to say, "I live only for my own country and my own division," he added.

He highlighted the fact that droughts and floods are a worldwide issue that can be solved only by joining forces. Gül expressed his gratitude to all the participants including government officials, parliamentarians, civil society organizations, academics and the press for the interest they have shown.

"The extensive turnout to the forum has shown that water is not merely a technical matter experienced by countries individually but instead a matter that has utmost priority among governments worldwide as it affects people on a collective scale," said Gül.

Speaking about the always changing and developing nature of today’s world, Gül said we need to recognize that all the countries across the world that suffer from the same problems do not have the same foundations and economic means to support themselves and prosper at the same rate. Countries that are in better positions need be supportive to make worldwide progress.

According to Gül, one of the most pressing issues on the worldwide agenda is the protection of the environment, which he said is rapidly eroding on a daily basis. Without losing any more time, all worldwide organizations and establishments need to take responsibility and act together, Gül said.

The 5th World Water Forum was also attended by many NGOs, which will also take part in the "alternative" water forum. The Turkish Foundation for Reforestation, Protection of Natural Habitats and Combating of Soil Erosion, or TEMA, is one of them. During the forum, they will release their strategies and policies on water management.

In December 1992 at the United Nations Environment and Development Conference in Rio de Janeiro, March 22 was established as the World Day for Water. The growing importance of the water is a new topic in Turkey and is being discussed outside of governmental bodies. TEMA defines water as priceless. According to General Directorate of State Hydraulic Works, or DSİ, that Turkey is not rich in water, though Environment Minister Eroğlu stated that Turkey will not have any water problems in the next 50 years. TEMA will be defending rights for water to be accessible with a reasonable price, efficient use and trustable for drinking, he said.

Eroğlu in his opening ceremony speech said he is doing his best for Turkey to become a part of the solution of the water issues around the world.

Mehmet Bekaroğlu, Istanbul mayoral candidate for the Felicity Party, or SP, said the privatization of water is only a measure that can be utilized by the rich. He spoke at a news conference close to the venue of the 5th World Water Forum in Istanbul’s Sütlüce.

Bekaroğlu asked, "What will those without sufficient financial means do? Will they be given clean water through water barons?" He reminded his audience of the content of a news conference held by the World Water Council in Mexico in 2006, saying that water is a commercial commodity that needs to be distributed evenly and that members of the water council concluded that privatizing water could resolve the issue of clean water being distributed evenly.

According to Bekaroğlu, the privatization of water needs to be set up in such a way that everyone can access a clean water supply in an efficient way.


A water fair hosting nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, and companies from all over the world is taking place during the forum week in Feshane, the second venue of the World Water Forum, opposite Sütlüce on the other side of the Golden Horn.

Celestine Kaseve runs a stand for Kenyan NGO COHRE, which works to improve water access, particularly in settlements in Kenya. "In Kenya 60 percent of the population has no access to water," she said. Her presentation on Wednesday might help her find new supporters for the NGO's project.

Next to Kaseve, Masahiko Nagai from the Japan-based International Flood Network describes its flood management projects such as satellite observation, rainfall data and emergency forecasts. Nagai will join a session of ministers from Japan, the Netherlands and Turkey, promoting the NGO's ideas.

Using seawater and sunlight to generate drinking water is Mage Water Management’s idea. The German company entered the final round of the Kyoto Grand World Water Prize and representative Mirco Richardson hopes for an award when the jury decides on Sunday.

The Jal Bhagirathi Foundation works in the world’s most populated desert, the Marwar region in India. The desert receives only 200 millimeters of rainfall per year, and the foundation is offering solutions.


Associate Director of the World Water Council member Daniel Zimmer said the council was quite happy about the forum and that this is the first time they have organized it well.

"Each time it is improving and the diversity is increasing with each World Water Forum," Zimmer said, adding that the council’s main worry was that the venue would not be ready on time.

According to Zimmer, there is growing concern and interest in water issues. There are people from 180 countries and some are here with 100 participants. There are 40 minister delegations, 120 ministers, 250 parliament members from all over the world as well as local authorities in attendance.

There are 14,000 international people attending the forum. According to the council this is the biggest proof that water is becoming a big issue in the world agenda.

"We have never seen this interest much before. We have the heads of state for the first time," Zimmer said.

Zimmer said the budget for the 5th World Water Forum is about $20 million. Although he accepts that there is a big discussion and critic on the forum Zimmer said this is a part of the economy. "The event is so big that politicians understand the importance of the issue," he said.

He said the private sector has something to do with water because they are a big user of the water. Being open to criticism, Zimmer said the private sector has to be a part of the dialogue because only through dialogue progress can be made. "The water is an important tool to build democracy. It starts with the governments and goes down to the locals. It is a wide issue."

Zimmer thinks protests are not unusual. When you have policians, head of state, private companies there is always protests, he said and added: "I really don’t know what happened but I am really sorry if there was anyone injured or taken into jail. Of course we are not in favor of these kinds of things. We have tried to make our best to open the forum to everyone. We see an increasing number of participants, but we still face people taking advantage of this big event to have a chance to shout out what they believe."

The council has many people who are going to take part in the "Alternative Water Forum." There are many people supporting the alternative forum who are participating in the 5th World Water Forum as well. According to Zimmer the dam issue has always been a very hot issue in the world.
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