NGOs Challenge Water Privatisation
Several non-governmental organisations have come together to challenge water privatisation policies.
The groups plan to present their challenge at the World Water Forum in Mexico next March. The forum is a key global event to be hosted by the World Water Council (WWC), an international water policy think-tank.
The WWC has a strong preference for privatisation, says Olivier Hoedeman, research coordinator with the Dutch campaign group Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO). The group co-hosted a meeting in Brussels on the water crisis Thursday along with other civil society groups including Bread for the World, Public Services International and the Transnational Institute.
"Although the privatisation wave has lost a lot of momentum in recent years due to the many failures, not the least in cities in developing countries, there is still a strong ideological push to promote private sector management, including from the World Water Council," Hoedeman told IPS.
Anil Naidoo from the Council of Canadians, an NGO, said delegates discussed "potential joint approaches" to working at the forum. "These include inside-outside strategies designed to promote water justice and challenge those who want to privatise, control and commodify the world's water," he told IPS.
Stefan Verwer from the Dutch NGO Both Ends says the focus on privatisation is a diversion from the real issue of water provision in developing countries.
"Building government capacities to implement water policies is of crucial importance, and is largely left out of the international debate by those who prioritise water privatisation," he told IPS.
About 1.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water, and 2.4 billion people to sanitation.
Approximately 5 percent of the world's water is run by the private sector but 95 percent of that is by European companies.
At the last water forum in Kyoto in Japan in March 2003, the European Union (EU) promoted the idea of "public-private partnerships", where Hoedeman says management control is transferred to the private sector while financial risks are left for the local governments.
The CEO says the European Commission's trade department is continuing to promote the expansion of private water multinationals headquartered in Europe, while the Dutch government seems "obsessed" with promoting public-private partnerships in developing countries via development aid.
"This is despite the fact that water in The Netherlands is delivered exclusively by public water utilities which are among the most effective and sustainable in the world," said Hoedeman.
Thursday's meeting also examined how civil society groups can put "optimal pressure" on the EU to refrain from promoting water privatisation.
"At the meeting we discussed ways to encourage the EU to re-assess these positions. This includes a concrete proposal for the EU to commit political and financial support to enable public-public partnerships between water utilities in Europe and in the South," he said.
"The Dutch government and the EU as a whole should get out of the closet and start offering straightforward, ambitious political and financial support for public utilities in the South," said Hoedeman.
"There has been next to no positive attention for the more obvious solution: improving the performance of public water utilities and helping them expand connections to all that need it," he added.
Naidoo said "strong public systems which are efficiently run on behalf of citizens" are the best option.
"These must respect the idea of the right to water, which includes respect for people and nature. The vision for water must be long term and comprehensive for us to solve the water crisis. Short term, market-based solutions will only increase the inequity and do not present any sustainable solution," he said.
Peter Hardstaff, head of policy at the World Development Movement (WDM) said there is "no single blueprint" for providing water and sanitation.
"There are many 'alternative' approaches to privatisation from state run utilities, in various different forms, to cooperative schemes and community managed water systems," he told IPS.
The WDM, a British-based NGO, says support for water privatisation from rich country governments and international institutions is hampering efforts to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The group says clean water is crucial to the MDGs on child mortality, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases and promoting gender equality as well as the specific target of halving the proportion of people in developing countries without access to safe drinking water by 2015.
"In country after country water privatisation has failed to provide either the investment promised or has led to price rises which force the poor to use other dirty water sources," he said.
Copyright 2005 Inter Press Service