Photo: FIVAS

By Claire Provost, The Guardian, Thursday 22 March

It would be easy to think last week's water talks in Marseille, France, were dominated by a single, crude dynamic. On the one hand, government and business leaders discussed concrete plans to increase access to water and sanitation at the corporate-friendly World Water Forum (WWF); on the other, anti-privatisation activists gathered at the Alternative World Water Forum (Fame) to denounce the role of big business in the world's water services. This supposed dynamic, after all, fits neatly into the well-worn narrative of "slick official summit" versus "unruly counter-summit".

In part, this is hard to avoid: like most high-level conferences, the WWF was largely a "show-and-tell" affair, following closed-door meetings where would-be delegates negotiate the terms of declarations and commitments which are then unveiled at the big event. In contrast, Fame was a messier "democracy-in-action" undertaking, objecting both to the outcomes of the WWF and to the process by which decisions are made.

Fame's final declaration, for example, was not prepped in advance and has yet to come out. Though it was debated in Marseille, it now needs to be brought to local organisations for further discussion before trickling back up and out. This is, depending on your position, a good thing. But it also helps bury the alternatives suggested by the global water justice movement, and makes it seem as if passionate criticism is the only thing on offer.

For his part, Loic Fauchon, head of the World Water Council, seemed keen to promote this supposed dynamic, deftly dismissing the alternative forum as insignificant at best and harmful at worst. It's time, he said, to move beyond debate and towards "practical solutions" – at least out of respect for those awaiting access to essential services.

Read the rest of this article on the Guardians webpage