Strategy Meeting on Water Privatisation in the South
Strategy Meeting on Water Privatisation in the South
Plans for Joint Action
Almost 40 water justice campaigners met in Amsterdam on October 16-18th , representing groups from all over Europe as well as Malaysia, The Philippines, Canada, the US and elsewhere. Our goal was to make progress in networking and joint campaigning on water privatisation in the South, to boost solidarity work with grassroots groups from the South and increase the pressure on European governments and EU institutions that are promoting privatisation. The following is far from a complete overview of our discussions, but summarises some of the main perspectives and plans coming out of the meeting. We warmly invite you to get involved!
Solidarity Campaigning. Focus on Suez
Our discussions on solidarity campaigning focused mainly on the case of Manila, where water giant Ondeo (Suez) has announced it will pull out after six years of running the water supply in the western part of the city (for an overview of the failed privatisation in Manila, see for instance www.ipd.ph/bantay_tubig/). An international arbitration panel will now determine who is responsible for the failure and how much compensation Suez is entitled to, which could take years. Rather than waiting for the outcome of this un-transparent and unpredictable process, the Water Vigilance Network (Philippines) is campaigning for a public sector alternative to be introduced, not the least to address the urgent needs of the 400,000 people that are still without water connections in the area covered by the Suez concession. We are committed to assist the Water Vigilance Network in this crucial effort.
Support the Manila Water Justice Campaign
As part of building international support for the Manila water justice campaign, we will put pressure on the International Finance Corporation (IFC - part of the World Bank) which is designing a rescue package to help Suez stay in Manila, without considering public sector alternatives. Also the French government and the Export Credit Agencies that lend to Suez should be targeted. Other plans include submitting 'amicus curiae' letters to the arbitration panel and organising solidarity visits to Manila. Background information, updates and suggestions for getting involved will be available on a new website dedicated to building solidarity with the Manila campaign. Manila is a crucial test-case for international solidarity and for promoting post-privatisation alternatives, as water TNCs are likely to also pull out of other major cities in the South in the coming years (for instance Jakarta).
Promoting alternatives to water privatisation was an integral theme of the strategy meeting. Indeed, the need to develop a positive vision of public sector models that are responsive and effective is an urgent challenge both in the South and the North. The purpose should clearly not be to promote blueprints, but rather to create space for local communities to develop their own solutions. This means on the one hand avoiding that the range of available options is narrowed down (for instance by international financial institutions like the IMF and the World Bank or by trade rules like GATS), on the other hand facilitating the learning process through exchange of experiences.
The Transnational Institute (TNI) and other groups will contribute to the pooling of examples of participatory public models from around the world as well as clarifying the lessons that can be learned from these. Strengthening the international linkages both between communities that are pursuing participatory models and between public utilities from different parts of the world (through Public Utility Partnerships - PUPs) has great potential.
In terms of overcoming hurdles for the development of public sector alternatives, a major priority should be to further explore alternative (international) finance mechanisms for public sector water. Possibilities include mobilising pension funds, developing municipal bond systems, and of course re-orienting Northern government aid towards progressive water solutions instead of privatisation. At the World Social Forum in Delhi, events will be organised on alternatives to privatised water management and on how to finance these models.
EU Water Initiative & Water Fund
The EU Water Initiative and the proposed EU Water Fund are examples of development aid with a pro-privatisation bias. The European Commission's Water Fund proposal from earlier this year suggested subsidising the operations of European water corporations in the South. As the EC is now preparing a revised proposal to be endorsed by the EU governments, there is an urgent need for action to steer these funds towards facilitating public sector water solutions.
A fundamental flaw in EU policies towards water delivery in the South is the attempt to use the GATS negotiations within the World Trade Organisation to accelerate and consolidate water sector liberalisation. As part of the wider campaigns against the GATS, we will step up the pressure on the EU to withdraw both its demands for including water in the GATS and the specific water requests made to 72 countries. National parliaments and local governments can play a key role in challenging the EU's approach. We also propose a pan-European (or global) day of local actions against water in GATS on March 22nd 2004 (UN World Water Day).
Challenging Pro-privatisation IFI's
International Financial Institutions (IFI's) like the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have a disastrous record of imposing water privatisation on governments in the South, for instance through loan conditionalities. More targeted campaigning against the pro-privatisation bias of these institutions is needed. This means stopping IFI support for harmful projects, but also promoting alternatives and exposing IFI's that block these. European governments must be held accountable for their role within IFI decision-making on these issues. A short-term focus will be the policy review taking place within the International Finance Corporation (IFC), but also the role of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) needs to be scrutinised. Instead of providing guarantees that facilitate further corporate expansion, MIGA should offer compensation for the victims for the social impacts of failed privatisation.
We invite other civil society groups to join us in taking on all of these challenges and want to link our campaign efforts with the work of other European and global networks. The next steps will be taken at the European Social Forum (ESF), where not only the global impacts of EU policies and European water corporations will be discussed, but also our response to the new push for liberalisation and privatisation of water delivery within Europe. In mid-January, many of us will be involved in water justice events during the World Social Forum (WSF) and the water-specific forum that will take place in Delhi in the days before the WSF.