BRAZIL: Churches criticize privatization of water resources

February 2, 2009

Churches in Brazil have backed a provision in the newly-passed Bolivian constitution describing water as a "fundamental human right" that may not be controlled by private companies and they say other nations should follow suit.


"We call on all countries in the world to also incorporate in their legislation the right to water as a universal right and a public good," said the National Conference of (Roman Catholic) Bishops of Brazil and the National Council of Christian Churches of Brazil.

The church groupings made their call in a joint statement published during the World Social Forum, a global gathering against exploitative globalization that took place in the northeastern Brazilian city of Belem and that ended on 1 February.

The statement was drawn up at an Ecumenical Forum on Water in Belem on January 26, the day after the Bolivian electorate approved the new constitution in a referendum with about 60 percent support. The new Bolivian constitution aims to give the country's indigenous majority more power and hands the government tighter control over the natural resources, including water.

One of a clutch of Latin American presidents present in Belem during the WSF, Bolivian President Evo Morales praised the constitution that he said establishes basic services, such as water, health and education, as human rights that can never be privatized.

At the Ecumenical Forum on Water, Brazilian senator Abraham Cuellar Araujo reported on the experience of the ministry of water created by Morales following the expulsion of companies that wanted to privatize water, the Brazilian bishops' conference noted in a statement.

"The ministry works in coordination with social movements to implement public policies for the benefit of all," the statement quoted him as saying.

"The church must take up the fight for water;" said Asa Elfstrom, from Sweden as a representative of the Ecumenical Water Network, a global group of Christian agencies and movements.

The forum was also attended by representatives of Catholic and Protestant churches in Switzerland with which the two Brazilian church groupings signed a declaration in 2005 on water "as a human right and a public good."

The declaration followed concern about the water bottling activities in Brazil of the Swiss company Nestlé. The secretary of the (Catholic) Swiss Bishops' Conference, the Rev. Felix Gmür, told the Belem water forum, "Nestlé has enormous power over water. Transnational companies make pseudo reassurances that as the State has no legal mechanisms to guarantee this right to water, they have this obligation. The Swiss Bishops' Conference says 'No.' This good belongs to everybody."