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' organizations.
The EWN groups churches and Christian organizations are campaigning for people's access to water around the world. They maintain that water is more than merely a "human need", as stated in the forum's draft ministerial declaration.
The latest United Nations World Water Development Report warns that the surging growth in global population, climate change, widespread mismanagement and increasing demand for energy have put pressure 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.
At the forum, which rook place between 16 - 22 March 2009, the United States, Canada, China, and several other nations, refused to recognise the human right to water, the Christian Science Monitor reported.
On19 March, the web-based newspaper reported experts as 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 organized 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 20 March.
The Istanbul forum coincides with UN World Water Day on 22 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."
More information: Ecumenical Water Network: http://water.oikoumene.org 
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International  is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]