Money matters at Stockholm Water Week

Water Justice report from World Water Week Day 1

21 August 2011

The tone of the debates in Stockholm has improved compared to previous years, less focus on private sector expansion, more on genuine solutions. 

A look at the programme of World Water Week here in Stockholm shows a large number of sessions hosted by financial heavyweights such as the World Bank and other development banks (and water-specific organizations set up by these banks) as well as northern aid agencies like USAID. Corporate lobbies are here in full force, including the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), the World Economic Forum (WEF), and Aquafed. Civil society is poorly represented except for wealthy US environmental NGOs such as Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy (TNC). Those directly involved in providing water, particular public utilities, are remarkably under-represented among the event organizers, whereas international thinktanks like the Global Water Partnership and the World Water Council, frequently criticised for their neoliberal, pro-privatisation leanings, are co-hosting many events. One reason for this imbalance is the heavy fees charged by the Stockholm Water Week for seminars and other events. I experienced this myself as the costs were a real hurdle for groups from the Reclaiming Public Water network to engage in co-organizing seminars at the Stockholm World Water Week. We did in the end manage and are co-organisers of the seminar on 'Pro-Poor Urban Water and Sanitation Provision: how can it be supported by participation, benchmarking and WOPs', which take place today, Monday 22 August.

In any case, the dominance of the programme by the most wealthy interests is a threat to Stockholm Water Week as an open space for debate about solutions to the water crisis. And also this year the conference has a large number of corporate sponsors, including many technology and engineering consultancy firms. Disturbingly, among the sponsors, as in previous years, is also Nestlé which is involved in water grabbing for its bottled water business in many countries around the world. Choosing Nestlé as a sponsor sends a very bad signal.

Luckily, during my first day at Stockholm Water Week I have heard several good speakers and had many good conversations with participants that are deeply engaged in work to promote the human right to water and sanitation and secure water provision for the poorest. And while it’s too early to draw conclusions, I have the feeling the tone of the debates in Stockholm has improved compared to previous years, with less focus on private sector expansion and more on genuine solutions. Perhaps this is a positive influence of the two UN resolutions for the human right to access to water and sanitation passed during the last year (in the general assembly and human rights council)?

About the authors

Satoko Kishimoto

She was an environmental activist and active in the youth environmental movement in Japan in the 1990s. She began working with TNI in 2003, at the time of 3rd World Water Forum held in Kyoto, Japan. TNI successfully organized a seminar on Alternatives to Water Privatisation, which was the starting point of the Water Justice Project. In 2005, the Reclaiming Public Water (RPW) Network was created with the contributors to the book 'Reclaiming Public Water'. TNI serves as the coordinating hub of the RPW network and Satoko is the coordinator of the network. The RPW network connects activists, trade unionists, researchers, community activists, and public water operators from around the world, and advocates progressive public water reforms and Public-Public Partnerships as the key elements for solving the global crisis in access to clean water and sanitation. 

Recent publications from Water Justice

Reorienting Development: State-owned Enterprises in Latin America and the World

Reorienting Development analyses what the nature, advantages, limitations and challenges of public companies are. It also offers new theoretical and conceptual insights on the nature and roles of the state and the controversial meanings of development.

Remunicipalisation

After decades of failed water privatisation, cities like Paris are starting to bring water back into public hands. Download this free 'must-read' book for policy makers and activists looking to democratise water services.

Privatising Europe

This working paper and infographic provide an overview of  a great ‘fire sale’ of public services and national assets across Europe that is providing profits for a few transnational companies but is often fiercely opposed by its citizens.

Strengthening public water in Africa

While both North–South partnerships and SouthSouth Partnerships have strengths and limitations, linking these in networked models is an effective way to mobilise expertise and funding and achieve success.