NGO Documents for the Earth Summit, 1992
Non-Governmental Organization Alternative Treaties
at the '92 Global Forum
[ Back to Contents ]
[ Previous Treaty ] [ Next
Treaty 21. Fresh Water Treaty
International Setting and Issues in Water, Environment and Development
1. In recent years most countries have faced a grave economic crisis which generated a
great decrease in the quality of life of people in both rural and urban areas. The
economic crisis reduced the capacity of the public sector to invest in the maintenance and
expansion of irrigation, potable water and sanitation systems, as well as in environmental
preservation, conservation and economic development programs. This reduction of investment
in developing countries is due, to a great degree, to the demands on public resources to
service public debts.
2. At the same time, ecosystems rapidly deteriorated due to inadequate exploration of
water sources, the degradation and contamination of ecosystems and natural water producers
and irrational and wasteful consumption of water. These problems are due to public
policies which give priority to private interests that exploit water resources with a
short term perspective. This is demonstrated by the fact that water shortages are not just
the result of natural growth and migration of populations.
3. Projects designed to drain wetlands for agriculture, livestock enterprises, large
urban development projects and dumping sites all constitute serious threats to
biodiversity, the equilibrium of surface water regimes, aquifer recharge and the
availability of fresh water sources for natural ecosystem and human populations.
4. The world requires an environmental vision that includes opportunities for access to
development and improved quality of all aspects of life, based on improved knowledge,
ecologically and socially sustainable management of the planet's biodiversity.
5. This kind of socially just and ecologically sustainable environmental vision
encompasses the specialties and diversities of all regions. This necessarily requires the
active participation of a broad range of the social, economic and political groups and
actors in each region. The tasks required to conceptualize and implement this new vision
are complex and difficult, but the need is urgent and immediate.
Water and Development
6. Without a doubt, water, a vital element for ecosystems and human society, has
progressively become a scarce resource both in quantity and quality for different social
7. There is a growing realization that we must perceive water in a holistic manner.
This implies an understanding of water from several distinct perspectives:
a. as a vital element for the survival of biodiversity and human societies
b. as a vital resource for the development of economic activities
c. as a natural resource which has economic value because of its scarcity
d. as an environmental resource which is a common patrimony that society should use,
preserve and conserve, highlighting related cultural and spiritual aspects.
8. All inhabitants of the world should be guaranteed equitable access to potable water
and sanitation as a fundamental right. For this, it is necessary to end the management of
water on a sectoral basis, which ignores its multiple uses and prevents the conservation
and preservation of hydrological systems.
9. Short term solutions that aim to privatize and fragment the hydrological cycle
worsen the existing situation. The solutions to problems due to the use and reuse of water
require a holistic vision of river basins, to be obtained through people's participation
and cooperation. By themselves, markets in any form cannot solve the full range of
problems associated with managing hydrological systems; the environmental alternative to
resolve these problems implies water management where priorities are set and decisions are
made as the result of collective processes of debate and discussion involving broad
popular participation, resulting in a collective sense of responsibility.
10. Water is critical for life on earth. It links the planet's diverse ecosystems as it
moves between the sea, air and land, providing for human health and welfare, food security
and economic development.
11. All inhabitants of the planet have a basic right to clean, fresh water.
12. Scarcity, misuse and pollution of fresh water resources pose increasingly serious
threats to ecologically and socially sustainable development, human health and ecosystem
maintenance, all of which will be exacerbated by impacts of global climate change on the
13. Fresh water resources, although renewable, are limited. Per capita water supplies
and other water-dependent resources are declining as the world population increases. The
increased demands for water exceed supplies, which have been wasted and contaminated, as
watersheds, rivers, aquifers and wetland habitats are destroyed, decimating fisheries as
14. Conventional water exploitation models have failed. Thus it is estimated that
hundreds of millions of citizens of the third world are without access to any basic
sanitation facilities. The conditions of life in some places are so unbearable that
mortality rates in urban areas are higher than in rural areas. In other places, the
situation is so serious that water borne diseases schistosomiasis, bilharzia and cholera
15. Large-scale dams and intensive irrigation projects are responsible for salinization
and waterlogging of hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of land, using the major
part of the world's available water supplies, forcibly displacing millions of people from
their homes, reducing fishing capacity, destroying ecosystems and consuming enormous
amounts of scarce capital resources.
16. Human intervention in the environment has contributed to changes in hydrologic
regimes and the contamination of water resource systems.
17. Conservation and ecologically and socially sustainable water management require a
different kind of development model, based on social justice and ecological concern, with
popular participation and cooperation at all levels local, national, regional and
18. Women have a central role in supplying drinking water, growing food and maintaining
the health and welfare of families.
19. Citizens, local communities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and user groups
should participate in the management of aquatic resources and water and ensure public
access to information and participation in project elaboration, implementation and
management. Aid agencies should invest directly in projects to be managed locally by local
20. NGOs and social movements, especially in rural areas, are concerned about
large-scale dam projects associated with conventional development projects. Existing
projects should be modified and new ones developed in an ecological and socially
sustainable manner, with public participation, giving priority to decentralized
21. Solutions to the world's water problems go beyond new technologies and must
encompass political, social, economic, environmental, cultural and spiritual issues.
22. Technologies, methods and policies modern, traditional and indigenous techniques
alike already exist and are available now to begin the transition to an efficient,
equitable system of water management which conserves and preserves the environment.
23. We endorse the principles of existing NGO declarations, charters and agreements to
promote economically and socially sustainable management of fresh water, including the
June 1990 Montreal Charter on Drinking Water and Sanitation.
24. We desire to bring about the transition to ensure that adequate, safe and clean
water supplies are available to maintain biodiversity and to meet the needs of all
inhabitants of the planet.
25. Recognize and support efforts of NGOs, social movements, indigenous peoples,
women's organizations, agricultural producers' organizations, traditional fisherfolk and
local communities to develop an ecologically and socially sustainable use of water and
lobby for the adoption of appropriate water policies
26. Lobby locally, regionally, nationally and internationally for governments and
multilateral organizations to create and democratically enact legal instruments to protect
water supplies, regulate water uses, control water pollution and establish water rights
for all inhabitants.
Local Information and Participation
27. Campaign against conventional large-scale water projects, in general, and
large-scale dams, in particular, because they are expensive, cause forcible resettlement
of people, destroying their modes of production, and cause environmental changes
28. Identify, evaluate and publicize ecologically and socially sustainable methods for
mining and agriculture (irrigation, livestock, silviculture, aquaculture and food
processing) in order to reduce the negative impacts on the quality of life and environment
of intensive water use, pollution and contamination from fertilizers, pesticides, manure,
organic wastes and other waste products of these activities
29. Collect and share information and data about the status of water resources, water
supplies, water quality and aquatic ecosystems, and of the work and experiences for
governmental and non-governmental organizations in order to inform the populations that
inhabit or need the ecosystem
30. Work to decentralize and democratize the planning, management and decision-making
process for land use and water management programs, conducted for those segments of
society that are most affected
31. Create efficient information mechanisms through formal and informal education
programs for NGOs, governments, international institutions and the public about the
importance of fresh water to our health, welfare and economy, the scarcity of fresh water
resources, the impacts of various water use practices and the need to conserve and protect
our finite water resources.
Environmental Conservation and Restoration
32. Promote the conservation, preservation and restoration of aquatic ecosystems and
aquatic biodiversity through the creation of river ecosystem reserves to protect
representative parts of the basin from dams and other disruptive actions, establish
sustainable fisheries, water supplies, recreation and leisure sites in such areas.
Research and the Diffusion of Technology
33. Promote efficient and environmentally-sound water use practices to reduce water
waste and increase water conservation and preservation in domestic, industrial and
Conditions for Implementation
34. Encourage the public and private sectors, water users' organizations and local
communities to use economic incentives, pricing mechanisms, taxes, user fees, fines and
other mechanisms that will both signal the value of precious water resources and
discourage wasteful and polluting practices
35. Obligate public and private sectors to create data banks of information that allows
active public participation in the planning and management of water resources
36. Lobby and guarantee that international aid institutions re-direct their funding and
investments away from costly, destructive, centralized water construction projects towards
ecologically and socially sustainable, decentralized, community-based water resource
evaluation and management projects
37. Campaign for international agreements and policies to promote cooperative
management of internationally shared water resources, reduction and treatment of
transboundary pollution and achievement of global food security
38. Coordinate efforts and establish linkages with other networks, such as education,
ecologically and socially sustainable agriculture, coastal management, health, technology
and sanitation, to ensure an integrated approach, facilitate communication, build
solidarity, share information and enhance cooperative efforts.
39. Promote the conservation and ecologically and socially sustainable management of
water in order that it be universally practiced. It should occur in areas where water is
abundant as well as where it is scarce. A holistic approach to watershed management is
required that encompasses both surface and groundwater resources
40. Create new international networks of NGOs and social movements that deal with
water, or revitalize existing ones, avoiding duplication
41. Lobby governments to publish lists of all enterprises and water users who violate
environmental principles and standards and monitor and publicize the information
42. Analyze current models of water exploitation within a regional social-environmental
framework in order to understand their failures and overcome them
43. Act to ensure that technical, political and financial management of water resources
and basic sanitation remain a public sector responsibility and not a private sector
We commit to:
44. Develop practices to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of operational
information systems, through networks and local, regional, national and international
45. Develop criteria for evaluating water resource projects and policies that all NGOs
may use to ensure that their efforts are consistent with the principles of this treaty
46. Guarantee that hydrologic systems (watershed, river basin) be used as units for
environmental planning and management, according to ecological and socially sustainable
47. Prohibit the installation and maintenance of nuclear power projects because of the
serious contamination risks they present to both surface and groundwater resources and
prohibit the storage and disposal of radioactive and toxic wastes in places where they
pose a contamination threat to surface and ground water
48. Prohibit the establishment of any activity that requires deforestation which
generates losses to aquatic systems. Require reforestation using native species in
49. Mobilize civil society to initiate public civil actions against those who degrade
50. Develop programs on environmental education and human resources development
focusing on an integrated watershed perspective and functioning mechanisms of aquatic
51. Lobby governments to guarantee the full functioning of agencies that regulate,
monitor and audit environmental conditions
52. Guarantee that any enterprise that changes a watershed in any way be preceded by
public review of an environmental impact assessment with enough time to inform all
53. Prohibit construction that constricts river channels and can cause rivers to shift
54. Lobby governments, the private sector and multilateral development agencies to
ensure that prospective water resource investments are democratically debated, publicly
implemented, and managed with the participation of representatives of various social
sectors on an oversight committee during implementation and an administrative council
thereafter. These groups should be guided by three principles: to provide basic
necessities, improve the general quality of life and preserve environmental quality
55. Create breeding sanctuaries for aquatic animals and guarantee their integrity by
prohibiting hunting and fishing in the sanctuaries.
Resources should be obtained by:
56. Seeking direct investment from national, regional and international institutions
for community-based efforts
57. Seeking public and private funds for collaborative projects among NGOs around the
58. Directing user fees, taxes and fines back into environmental and ecologically and
socially sustainable development programs.
59. In order to evaluate the procedures of this treaty we will meet in 1994, following
local, national, regional and international meetings.
[ Back to Contents ]
[ Previous Treaty ] [ Next
[ Home ] [ E-mail ]