Members of the church-backed Ecumenical Water Network are urging that water be affirmed as a "basic human right" by government delegations meeting in Istanbul at the World Water Forum. 

"The right to water and sanitation is firmly grounded in international human rights law," said a statement signed by EWN members Church World Service, the Church of Sweden and Norwegian Church Aid, along with other "civil society" organisations. 

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PICTURE: zarm (www.sxc.hu)

The EWN groups churches and Christian organisations campaigning for people's access to water around the world. They have maintained that water is more than merely a "human need", as stated in the forum's draft ministerial declaration. 

The latest UN World Water Development Report warns that the surging growth in global population, climate change, widespread mismanagement and increasing demand for energy have tightened the grip on the world's water supplies. 

"After decades of inaction, the problems we face are enormous. If left unattended, they may become insurmountable," said Koïchiro Matsuura, director-general of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in presenting the report to the Istanbul forum. 

The United States, Canada, China, and several other nations, have refused to recognise the human right to water at the 16th to 22nd March forum, the Christian Science Monitor reported. 

The Web-based newspaper on 19th March cited experts saying that some countries' opposition to such a step is based on a misconception that enshrining a universal right would force them to share their water resources with other nations. 

The World Water Forum takes place every three years and is the largest international event dedicated to water issues. It is organised by the World Water Council, which is composed of a variety of stakeholders, including corporations and business associations. 

"In the past the forum has tended to emphasise water privatisation and large-scale water infrastructure and while the interests of business players are well represented in international discussions about water issues, it is important that civil society organizations and churches raise awareness of the needs of affected communities," EWN coordinator Maike Gorsboth told Ecumenical News International on 20th March. 

The Istanbul forum coincides with UN-marked World Water Day on 22nd March. 

Gorsboth said, "As World Water Day falls on a Sunday this year, we certainly hope that people will celebrate water through prayer, worship or other activities and raise awareness of our shared responsibility to care for this precious gift and make it accessible to everybody." 

~ Ecumenical Water Network: http://water.oikoumene.org