The Opening

 Robin Owings

After a morning full of long registration lines and stiff security screenings (whose guards carefully remove water bottles from briefcases and backpacks), attendees swarm into the Palais des Evenements for the Opening Ceremony to the World Water Forum. Young french guides dressed in color-coded suits scan in our plastic nametags and usher us inside. The auditorium is filled with orange padded chairs and the chatter of restless business executives. Auditorium guides hand out headsets to participants which translate the ceremony into 10 different languages; English was streamed on channel 2. Five giant video screens hang throughout the auditorium; each boasts a projection of the Sixth World Water Forum logo (a water droplet). From our balcony seats, the room seems dark, airy, and impatient. As attendees continue to file in, the screens loop several short videos of french athletes who boast the importance of water in Marseilles.

The lights focus on the stage and the screens activate, following a split second behind the live action. The moderator opens the event with a short speech. A video plays, describing several stories of water struggles around the globe. The carefully constructed narrative is both chilling and inspiring. It is a call to action for attendees, reminding them why they have come to the forum and emphasizing the need to produce solutions. As the video fades and the lights dim, a choral group of over 150 children floods through the aisles to the main stage. Each child beats a 5 gallon water jug with a plastic pipe, forming an amplified rhythym which echoes throughout the stadium. They sing “Porte l’Eau,” an original piece composed for the forum by Erik Benzi which is accompanied by projected video and live percussionists. (The song can be found here with a terrible music video attached). Cameras record the performance throughout the audience; their screens light up the seats like a blue electronic sea, acting as their own special effect beside the glow of the stage. The live sound of the children’s voices is poignant; It is a visual and aural reminder that the next generation is malleable, that their future will be shaped by the delegation’s hands. These arts media frame the experience and speak to the ethos of all attendees, and simplify the purpose and affect of the forum. How were these media chosen, and by whom? How much do they contribute to the energy of the first sessions, of the delegations’ views on self-importance and significance, on efficiency?

Following the video and choral performance, several speakers share idealistic goals whose messages ring clearly through the quieted auditorium. “Having access to water is a dream to a large portion of the world.” “Water is like freedom– why have the right to vote if one does not have the right to live?” “If we have a World Trade Organization, why can’t we have a World Water Organization?” “Water is a global priority to be translated into acceptible growth and harmonious development.”  “It is more than our duty, it is our obligation.” “Sanitation is the greatest issue we must address.”  “Have you ever experienced real thirst? Do you remember it?” “The victims are always the same. Today I want to enable these people to speak out.” “We have a valuable asset: our dignity.”

“Come in, speak, listen– the world is awaiting our solutions.”

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