MEXICO CITY (AP) – Governments, not private companies, should take the lead in improving public access to safe drinking water, representatives of 148 countries said Wednesday at the end of a forum on how to tackle the world’s water crisis.

The seven-day forum focused much of its attention on the developing world’s growing reliance on bottled water bought from private companies. Worldwide, the industry is now worth about $100 billion per year. Anti-corporate forces and other critics say governments should instead be improving tap water supplies.

The forum’s declaration, to be adopted later Wednesday, does not specifically mention privatization, but states that “governments have the primary role in promoting improved access to safe drinking water.”

The declaration also described dams and hydroelectric projects – opposed by environmentalists for decades – as important and innovative.

“(We) acknowledge the implementation and importance in some regions of innovative practices such as … the development of hydropower projects,” said the draft declaration, circulated in advance of the closing ceremony.

Environmentalists oppose big dam projects – used to create hydroelectric power – because they can disrupt natural water sources and take up land. They say corporate interests, combined with an aggressive lobbying campaign by the World Bank, are pushing developing countries to build large dams.

On Wednesday, United Nations officials presented a report warning about the effects of climate change and the need for more dams. The U.N. World Water Development Report, however, recommends small dams instead of big ones – or at least making the larger projects more environmentally friendly.

“Many regions will likely need to increase water storage capacity in order to cope with (climate) change,” UNESCO official Walter Erdelen said at the same Mexico City hotel where government representatives met for the water forum.

Almost everyone who spoke at the summit – from leading business figures to government officials – claimed they did not support handing local water authorities over to private administrators, which was done starting in the 1990s.

Violent protests in countries including Bolivia and Guatemala have led private firms to withdraw from some contracts and to be more cautious about signing new ones.

But private companies have vastly increased their sales of bottled water in the developing world in recent years, in what some see as a sort of “stealth” privatization of water services in countries where the tap water is unsafe.

The declaration also included recommendations in favor of the expansion of water services to reduce poverty, community water planning and careful consideration of the environmental, social and economic impacts of water projects.

The water forum is held every three years.

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