The Treaties - 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 uses.

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.

General Principles

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 hydrologic cycle.

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 well.

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 - become epidemic.

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 international.

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 communities.

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 decision-making.

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.

Action Plan

We will:

Social Organization

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 irrigation sectors.

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.

Complementary Strategies

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 initiative.


We commit to:

44. Develop practices to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of operational information systems, through networks and local, regional, national and international events

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 development models

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 degraded areas

49. Mobilize civil society to initiate public civil actions against those who degrade water systems

50. Develop programs on environmental education and human resources development focusing on an integrated watershed perspective and functioning mechanisms of aquatic systems

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 interested parties

53. Prohibit construction that constricts river channels and can cause rivers to shift course

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 world

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.

© 2001 by Ulrich Schmitthenner • Bildschirm-Version