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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.



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IPS Blog

Entries tagged "Water"

An Appeal to Canada to Stand with El Salvador, the First Nation to Halt Gold Mining

November 14, 2012 ·

I paid a visit this week to the Canadian Embassy with colleagues from the Institute for Policy Studies and other environmental and public policy organizations to deliver a letter to the Canadian Ambassador to the United States. We are demanding that his government tell Pacific Rim — the Vancouver-based mining company — to stop bullying the people of El Salvador.

John Cavanagh, IPS Director, speaks with Canadian Ambassador to discuss how Canadian company Pacific Rim is bullying El Salvador.

Our letter was co-signed by Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Public Citizen, Friends of the Earth, Earthworks, the Center for International Environmental Law, and others. We wrote:

“Given the severe environment and human rights implications associated with Pacific Rim’s investment in El Salvador and the gold mine and cyanide leach-water processing plant it is proposing, we urge the Canadian government to alert Pacific Rim that its investor-state claim against the Salvadoran government for enforcing its own environmental laws and striving to protect its water and communities tarnishes the image of the Canadian mining industry.”

Salvadoran community leaders tell us that, since 2009 when they came to Washington DC to receive the Letelier-Moffitt human rights award from IPS, Pacific Rim has been trying to transform itself from victimizer to victim. This behavior is reprehensible. Some have lost their lives due to anti-mining activities, such as Marcelo Rivera, the brother of one of those who received the awards, who was assassinated for speaking out about the perils of gold mining.

This is the effect of free trade agreements.

Despite the prospect of major environmental damage, Pacific Rim says it has the “right,” under the investor–state regime allowed by investment rules in free trade agreements, to reap the profits that would have been brought by gold mining. In pursuit of these so-called lost profits, Pacific Rim is demanding up to hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation at the International Centre for Settlement of International Disputes (ICSID), an unaccountable World Bank tribunal that operates behind closed doors.

The Sierra Club “opposes trade and investment agreements that allow foreign corporations to attack environmental and public health protections in secret trade tribunals,” says  Ilana Solomon, trade policy expert at the Sierra Club. “This lawsuit by Pacific Rim, which threatens the health and safety of communities in El Salvador, is a case in point for why we oppose these secret tribunals." 

Using large roll-out maps of El Salvador watersheds that he brought along, IPS director John Cavanagh explained to the First Secretary of the Canadian Embassy that, though there is always danger from the mining and processing necessary to extract gold, Pacific Rim’s activity in El Salvador is particularly threatening given that El Salvador is the second most water-starved country in our hemisphere. A full 98 percent of El Salvador’s surface water is contaminated, some of it from mining activity halted decades ago. Yet Pacific Rim stands to exacerbate El Salvador’s water problems, threatening the river that supplies water to over half the population. 

There is a broad consensus in the department of Cabañas and throughout the country that opening a mine in the Lempa River watershed presents a dangerous risk that El Salvador cannot afford. Polling shows that the people of El Salvador oppose gold mining and the government supports this mandate.

Pacific Rim claims that those who oppose gold mining are “certain,” “rogue,” and “anti-developmental” organizations. But hundreds of environmental organizations in the United States, Canada and globally stand firm to defend the right of the people of El Salvador  — the first nation to halt gold mining — to defend their environment and to implement public policies to this end. Yesterday we asked the embassy official to notify his government that we expect an escalation in worldwide protests demanding that Pacific Rim drop its suit at the World Bank’s ICSID, and leave El Salvador.

In addition to environmental concerns, Pacific Rim’s project has caused divisions and severe human costs. As our letter states:

“We are deeply troubled by the human rights abuses associated with the Pacific Rim mine. Already, four environmental activists have been assassinated and many more have been threatened, including journalists who operate a local radio station.”

No company should have the right to threaten a country like this.

Water is Not for Sale: A Look at Italy's Water Movement

October 15, 2010 ·

All over the world, communities are engaged in struggles to protect their water supply from harmful corporate activities.  In some cases commercial activities contaminate rivers, lakes or groundwater; in others, businesses such as gold mines pollute water sources and use so much water that they literally suck the groundwater dry. 

Water privatization is increasing.  Transnational corporations are gaining more control of water supplies, and are selling them back to local communities for profit, often with the backing of global economic institutions such as the World Bank.  These kinds of conflicts have become increasingly visible in both the developing and the industrialized world - even as the United Nations has affirmed the human right to water in 2010. 

This past summer, I was able to observe an amazing nation-wide grassroots movement against water privatization in Italy.  Italy has a strong tradition of guaranteeing publically held local water utilities.  However, its congress passed a law in 2009 mandating the privatization of all community water services.  While the right-wing Berlusconi government claims that this was necessary because of European Union mandates, Italian water advocates assert that the government is just using that as an excuse to promote its own privatization agenda. 

The groundswell of opposition and push-back has been electrifying.  Thousands of people from all over the political spectrum in every region have organized to overturn the privatization law.  Over a thousand local water committees were formed, as well as a strong national coalition, the National Forum for Water Movements.  The movement's slogan is direct and straight to the point:  Water is not for sale; remove water from the market - remove profits from water.

Dozens of municipalities large and small have passed resolutions to recognize water as a publically held common good with no commercial significance.  One of the many to do so was Fabriano, a small town in the Marche region where part of my family lives, and where I have visited regularly and even lived since childhood.   When I interviewed leaders of the Fabriano's water movement their message was explicit:  Our local water must be administered for the common good of the community - il bene comune - and not treated as a market commodity.

Thousands of activists spent months in the spring and early summer doing outreach at local markets and public spaces, handing out information, and registering people in a petition to demand a series of national referenda to overturn the water privatization law.  Over 1.4 million people signed the petition - almost a million more than needed - and more than any other referendum petition in the nation's history.  Although the request still has to go through a political process to be determined, organizers hope that the referenda restoring Italy's water as a public good will take place in spring, 2011. 

Italy's struggle is seen by many as part of a larger, global struggle for the rights of people against corporate power and the local water movement has linked up with water activists all over the world.


Lael Parish is the project director of Promoting Resource Rights in the Global Economy at the Institute for Policy Studies.  The project promotes the rights of people and communities over their own natural resources, and supports efforts to change global economic institutions that currently favor transnational corporations in resource conflicts.