Interview with Maude Barlow

by Big-Jump-Team EN

Maude Barlow: Water Activist, Alternative Nobel Prize Winner, Author

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Meet Maude Barlow

Maude Barlow has worked tirelessly for water issues across the globe. She has just released a new book this month, Blue Future, which outlines how we can protect water as a human right for everyone, end the conflicts we currently face regarding water, and treat water and our ecosystems with more dignity so that we can continue to share this precious resource with coming generations. Barlow spearheaded the movement to declare water and sanitation a basic human right, which was recognized by the UN in July 2010 - however access to this right continues to elude hundreds of millions of people around the world, and implementation of water protection in many parts of the world is lacking. Join us as we talk to Barlow about her ideas, and the future of our relationship to water.

Blue Future book imageBJC: Blue Future completes the Blue Trilogy, following Blue Covenant in 2007 and Blue Gold in 2002. How does Blue Future fit in and add to the discussion?

MB: Blue Future is written post the UN recognition of the human right to water and sanitation and so has a very specific and important story to tell about how we got these rights recognised and what they mean. It is also more solution based than either of my other books and calls for a new water ethic based on very clear principles. It is also an update on the ecological and human crises the world is facing in terms of water and arms the public, policy makers and students with the information they need to work on the issue

BJC: With austerity policies taking hold in many countries in the EU, especially in southern Europe, there's increasing privatisation pressure driving marketing water as a for-profit commodity, rather than seeing it as a human right. What do we need to be on the watch for, in order to protect the principle of water as a human right in the EU?

MB: The austerity agenda in Europe is being used by those with an ideological agenda to privatise vital public services such as water and wastewater. If water privatisation is allowed to proceed, the price of water will skyrocket and water cut offs will escalate. (Cut-offs are already happening in Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain but the numbers will increase dramatically if private companies are allowed to run water services on a for-profit basis.) Denial of basic water services is a direct violation of the human right to water and sanitation, so fighting water privatisation is essential if the human right to water is to be real.

BJC: Many of the arguments you pose have to do with putting the provisioning and control of water as a resource (back) into public hands. The EU's Water Framework Directive already has ambitious goals for water use and conservation, yet freshwater environments continue to be egregiously compromised. What needs to happen for the objectives of water conservation and protection to be met?

MB: My vision is to make government authorities and agencies responsible for carrying out conservation and watershed protection measures to work with communities who are the stewards of the water. We must set up a system of water use whereby those wanting access to public water must convince the "owners" of this public trust (the people) that they will use it wisely and without destroying it. In my opinion, the EU's Water Framework has some wonderful qualities and visions but needs the direct involvement of the public to be more effective.

BJC: Why do we need healthy rivers and lakes for the human right to water?

MB: For far too long, those concerned with water fell into two distinct groups: those concerned with the science and environmental aspects of water health; and those concerned with development and the human right to water. If we don't put these movements together in both analysis and action, we will have neither just access to water or enough clean water for all. We can have all the justice in the world but if we have polluted or displaced available water sources, we will never be able to make it real. Half the rivers in China have disappeared since 1990! How can we ensure water justice for the Chinese people when their water supplies are disappearing?

BJC: How do you feel Principle 3 in your book (water has rights too) is embodied today - what are some good modern examples in Europe or examples from the past?

MB: In many parts of the world, we are looking to ancient ways of water harvesting, water retention and natural water purification to protect and restore watersheds. One example I love is the work of Michal Kravcik of Slovakia, who led a project of national waterbed restoration in his country that involved 190 municipalities and 8,000 workers with fabulous results. This "Blue alternative" project has helped recover vast tracts of degraded land and water.

BJC: Have you ever participated in a Big Jump event, or would you?

MB: I have not participated in a Big Jump event as the project has not taken off in Canada in a big way (shame on us - cold is no excuse!) Yes I would happily take part and will look for allies here in my country to create interest!

BJC: What's the most creative freshwater awareness-raising project you've been involved with?

MB: I think the most exciting project was stopping a major dump site on an aquifer - the Aliston Aquifer on Georgian Bay in Ontario - five years ago. Thousands of people came together to fight for this groundwater source so close to the Great Lakes that had actually been tested in a German lab as having the purest water anywhere! First Nations, farmers, students, environmentalists, the whole community came together to save this aquifer and we were successful. The land has since been designated as Grade-A prime farm land, and has been returned to production. The community went on to implement a zero waste plan realising that it is not enough to oppose landfills; we must also make them as obsolete as possible.

For more information about Barlow's book check out:

For Maude Barlow's book reading and launch in Berlin on 24.09.2014, check out:

This interview was conducted by Indrani Kar from the Big Jump Challenge Team

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