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Water: Futures Market Invites Speculators, Challenges Basic Human Rights - UN Expert

A UN expert on water and human rights today expressed concerns about the creation of the world’s first futures market in water, saying it could invite speculation from financiers who would trade it like other commodities such as gold and oil.

On 7 December, the CME Group launched the world’s first water futures contract for trading with the aim to help water users manage risk and better balance the competing demands for water supply and demand amidst the uncertainty that severe droughts and flooding bring to the availability of water. The new water futures contract allows buyers and sellers to barter a fixed price for the delivery of fixed quantity of water at a future date.

“You can’t put a value on water as you do with other traded commodities,” said Pedro Arrojo-Agudo. “Water belongs to everyone and is a public good. It is closely tied to all of our lives and livelihoods, and is an essential component to public health,” he said, pointing importance of having access to water in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Water is already under extreme threat from a growing population, increasing demands and grave pollution from agriculture and mining industry in the context of worsening impact of climate change,” said the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation. “I am very concerned that water is now being treated as gold, oil and other commodities that are traded on Wall Street futures market.”

As well as farmers, factories and utility companies looking to lock-in prices, such a futures market could also lure speculators such as hedge funds and banks to bet on prices, repeating the speculative bubble of the food market in 2008.

“In this context, the risk is that the large agricultural and industrial players and large-scale utilities are the ones who can buy, marginalizing and impacting the vulnerable sector of the economy such as small-scale farmers,” said Arrojo-Agudo.

“Water is indeed a vital resource for the economy – both large and small-scale players - but the value of water is more than that. Water has a set of vital values for our society that the market logic does not recognize and therefore, cannot manage adequately, let alone in a financial space so prone to speculation,” said Arrojo-Agudo.

“While there are on-going global discussions concerning water’s environmental, social and cultural values, the news that water is to be traded on Wall Street futures market shows that the value of water, as basic human right, is now under threat.”

The human right to safe drinking water was first recognized by the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council in 2010.

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