Corporations aim to take over world water supply

WWC Out of the Closet
Sinking to new depths of greed and corruption, the Transnational Corporations (TNCs) are now getting all wet about water. Water’s running out all over the planet (last week a UN report estimated that some areas may be bone dry as early as 2025) and could soon be a more valuable commodity than oil.


Under the guise of trying to sort out the global water crisis, the 3rd triennial World Water Forum (WWF) will take place in Kyoto, Japan, March 16th-23rd. Only problem is that this international debate on the subject will be run by the World Water Council (WWC), a think-tank created in 1996 by the World Bank and some of the world’s largest Transnational Water Corporations. You get the picture?


Top of the agenda, naturally, is privatising the world’s water supplies - especially in the developing world. When they last met in 2000, the WWF came up with a pro-privatisation manifesto entitled “World Water Vision” which, the WWF claimed, reflected the global consensus on solutions to the water crisis. Of course it did nothing of the sort—there was of course no grassroots representation at the 2000 meeting (especially from the developing world) and the whole conference was stridently opposed by activist groups (who set up their own alternative conference). Despite its own legitimacy being deeply questioned, the WWF say the time for debate is over. This 3rd conference in Kyoto will not be about “if” but about “how” to force privatisation on unwitting or unwilling populations whose governments have been bought or coerced by the World Bank.


* To find out more about the WWF and protest plans: ASEED Japan - www.aseed.org


So just what are the alternatives to letting the TNCs privatise the world’s water supplies? It’s true that many public water utilities are bureaucratic dinosaurs out of touch with the people they are supposed to serve, but there are many publicly owned supplies that are accountable to the needs of the population.


One example can be found in Porto Allegre, Brazil. The local water company DMAE is publicly owned, but it is financially independent from state control and is fully financed through water bills paid by the 1.4 million inhabitants of Porto Allegre. All profits are re-invested in the water supply. The daily work of DMAE is controlled by civil society representatives, while operations and investment decisions are subject to a participatory budget process and community members directly decide the budget priorities of the water company. Through a process of public meetings, every citizen can have a say in which investments should be made first.


This participatory model has massive success – awareness about water and sewage is raised and the people’s needs are prioritised. As a result, 99.5% of Porto Allegre’s population now have access to clean water (the highest rate in Brazil) and DMAE’s water price is one of the lowest in Brazil, while overall consumption has gone down.


In the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka, a proposed privatisation was strongly opposed by the water workers’union. So the Dhaka Water Authority contracted out one zone to the union, while another zone was given to a private water company for a one-year trial. The union co-operative’s results were so much better than the private sector’s that the contract was given to the union. The union co-operative’s achievements included a considerable expansion of the number of people with access to running water as well as a sizable reduction in water losses.


* Corporate Europe Observatory has prepared briefs around key issues of the global water debate: www.corporateeurope.org
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