The future for democratic public water: resistance and alternatives
The Alternative World Water Forum - FAMA, held from March 17th to 22nd in Brasilia attracted 7,000 people from almost every state in Brazil. FAMA sent a clear message that it would not engage with the opaque 8th World Water Forum, hosted by the private think-tank World Water Council and its corporate partners. The World Water Council has fostered pro-privatisation policy debates for decades.
The 8th World Water Forum’s total budget is reported to be €103 million. At the lowest estimate, more than half of this (€52m) was financed by the Brazilian taxpayer, through the Federal District Government (more than €30m) and ANA - National Water Agency (€22m), without any scrutiny. This massive public spending for such an obscure event is highly questionable when the Brazilian government scraps health and education budgets and programmes extensively, and faces a serious crisis of urban infrastructure. Despite an access-to-information request, the minimal accounting for the event has not been disclosed.  The 8th World Water Forum raises the serious question as to why precious public money is being used to provide space for large corporations to advance their business agenda. Before the World Water Forum, it was reported that Nestlé and Coca-Cola had reached a deal whereby they were assigned exclusive rights to extract water from the Guarani aquifer, the largest single underground renewable freshwater reservoir in the Americas. 
According to the World Water Forum website, the orginisers expected 40,000 participants but in reality it was just over a quarter of this amount (10,600 people) who attended. This would indicate that the political relevance of the World Water Forum for policy makers has decreased, and that the 8th World Water Forum has attracted only those with enough interests who are willing to pay the excessive fee (€850 for people coming from OECD countries). Since the 7th World Water Forum held in South Korea in 2015, a ‘civil society forum’ has been created to evade increasing criticism of the World Water Forum’s legitimacy. In Brasilia, alongside this civil society forum, a ‘citizen village’ was set up outside of the venue, open to members of the public and free of any entry charge. FAMA and the global justice movement rejected any participation in these artificial ‘citizen’ spaces.
Instead, FAMA successfully made its own space of diversity, welcoming the indigenous movements, quilombolas, fishermen, traditional communities, rural organisations, and socio-environmental movements from all over the world. This alternative space centred on people and communities who are affected by water contamination, deprivation and privatisation. It is worth noting that the Federal District Government supported FAMA with 1.2 million Brazilian real (about €300,000), which is 1% of the excessive amount of aid they put into the World Water Forum. One third of the amount given to FAMA was not cash but an ‘in-kind’ contribution, an agreement allowing FAMA to use the University of Brasilia campus for two days. FAMA was largely organised by individual donations, contributions from progressive foundations and trade unions, and through people’s commitment. FAMA participants were asked to make a contribution, if they were able to, of 50 reais (€12.50 for the 6-day event). FAMA provided a space for discussion about the strategies for alternatives which are now emerging from water justice struggles. Some of these are showcased below.
Not privatisation, but social control in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Ary Girota, an employee of the state water supply and sanitation company Companhia Estadual de Águas e Esgotos (CEDAE), took to the stage to denounce the Rio de Janeiro government’s plan to privatise CEDAE. Back in 2016, Brazil's ‘interim’ government, led by Michel Temer, granted an emergency loan to the State of Rio de Janeiro, to help finance infrastructure for the 2016 Olympics. Conditional to this bailout was the selling off of CEDAE. Although the privatisation was authorised in February 2017, it had been suspended due to resistance by unions, who filed two lawsuits challenging the action. According to Ary, ‘the government wants to make Rio a laboratory for other privatisation projects. CEDAE is intentionally underfunded to fail, and to prepare the ground for privatisation. We must be vigilant. Workers are not being paid for a month, and 6,000 workers are will not be part of the ongoing restructuring process. CEDAE should be reformed with social control – workers’ and users’ participation – and transparency. We will intensify our fight by working with low-income households who need affordable water services.’
Major sanitisation remunicipalisation in Tocantins, Brazil
Remunicipalisation is a local response by citizens and local authorities to systematically failing water privatisations and public private partnerships (PPPs). The latest research (January 2017) by TNI and its partners has revealed 835 cases across seven essential services. Of these, 267 are water cases. During FAMA, a previously unknown major remunicipalisation case in Tocantins state was reported, which now makes Brazil part of the global remunicipalisation picture.
During the 1990s, Brazil experienced a wave of privatisations. The only case to have involved sanitation services occurred in Tocantins state in 1997, when a highly opaque process saw the state sanitation company sold to the private company Saneatins. The necessary legal consent of all of the affected municipalities was not given, and the private contract referred only to four municipalities which had populations of 50,000 or more. After the privatisation, there was no significant improvement in the universalisation of sanitary sewage and water services, with rural areas and smaller municipalities becoming neglected instead. The State decided to recover control by establishing a new state sanitation company in 2010: Tocantins Agency of Sanitation (ATS) returned state control to 78 municipalities of 290,000 people in urban areas and 139 municipalities of 300,000 people in the entire rural area of the State. A detailed study will follow.
Local referendum threatens powerful water corporation in Barcelona
In February 2018, Aigua és vida (Water For Life platform in Catalonia) collected 26,389 signatures calling for a local referendum in Barcelona. A new citizen participation law allows residence in Barcelona to present their concerns if they collect 15,000 signatures, representing 1% of Barcelona’s population. Following the city council's approval in April 2018, in June people will be asked: ‘Do you want to have democratic public water management in Barcelona?’ Aguas de Barcelona (Agber), a subsidiary of Suez, is not running the city's water in a transparent way, although it has enjoyed making profits with its business since the 19th century. The company desperately lobbied the city council not to approve the referendum, filed three court appeals trying to challenge the citizen participation law. According to Miriam Planas, an activist of Engineers Without Borders (ISF)/Aigua és vida: ‘Agber is afraid of people’s voices being heard in a democratic way. Although the referendum is not binding, we are confident the city council will take serious consideration of its results.’ Agber has intensified its “Responsible Management” advertising campaign on TV, on the metro, buses, everywhere. People know that it is their water bills that are paying for these huge advertisements.’
Democratisation is a solution against persistent privatisation forces in Lagos, Nigeria
Bottom-up water law recognising community water systems in Colombia and Mexico
 PRIVATIZAÇÃO DE COMPANHIA ESTADUAL DE SANEAMENTO: A EXPERIÊNCIA ÚNICA DO TOCANTINS LIÇÕES PARA NOVOS ARRANJOS COM A INICIATIVA PRIVADA
FAMA final declaration:
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