Making Money From Water
Thu Apr 3 '03
Source: Independent Media Center
Oil fuels war, but the struggle for water is likely to make it worse as states are competing for scarce water supplies and companies see it as a commodity for profiting from the poor. From 16-23 March at the third World Water Forum, thousands of delegates discussed if water is to be a basic human right or a commodity owned by private companies. While most of the delegates were corporate representatives with vested interests in privatization, there was a separate grassroots presence as well. However, while the end-text could not give a final resolution to this question, water already is a $400 million business.
Consequences of water privatization in the South can be seen in Argentina, Bolivia and South-Africa where prices have risen and quality dropped. But given the recent decision by the world's largest water company (Suez) to pull out of major cities in the South, and the growing opposition to water privatization in many countries, there are signs that the tide may be turning for the corporate water giants, Corporate Europe Observatory says in one of its recent water-briefings. However, western countries are also seeking the privatization of water through the WTO General agreement on Trades in Services (GATS). The future of water supplies, however, will be better off, if maintenance is done in a participatory way by the people themselves, according to articles in the Green Pepper and this briefing.
A consequence of water privatization is that money will be made out of scarcity. In Cochabamba, Bolivia's third largest city, the waterindustry was a bargain for the Bechtel Corp. The people suffered its consequences as waterprices were high on the rise.
After taking over the water system in Cochabamba in 2000, the company imposed massive water rate hikes, which resulted in widespread protests countered by military force that killed one person and wounded 175 others. While its CEO Riley Bechtel is the 51st most wealthy man in the U.S, it is now suing the city's government for its "losses" after the privatization was drawn back. In San Fransisco, Peace activists shut down Bechtel Corp, at the recent start of the war in Iraq in early morning protest on March 20th due to its role in the US military industrial complex and its recent contract for rebuilding Iraq after the war.
Also, the people in South-Africa have to live up with privatized water-services. In Orange Town, an informal settlement of 1.5 million people south of Johannesburg with huge unemployment, the people have to buy a fixed amount of water credits. Meters have been installed to prevent "over-use" of water. The water services now is owned by the French company Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux. This giant multinational also owns the water system of Bergen County, New Jersey and is facing protests there for selling off preserved land to developers.
February 8 in Orange Farm 61 year-old Anti-privatization Forum and Orange Farm Water Crisis Committee (OWCC) activist Emily Nengolo, was shot dead in her home by two unknown assailants in what appears to be a politically motivated attack.
Since South Africa had started selling off water services 10 million citizens have had their water cut off and tens of thousands have died of cholera and diarrhea after being forced to rely on polluted river water.
Also in Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires, the region's first privatized consortium raised prices, cut 7,500 jobs, and deteriorated the system by failing the maintenance.
NGOs at the Water Forum issued a statement denouncing the efforts underway to privatize water. They objected 'the commodification of water and the renewed push for large-scale infrastructure projects that undermine local, participatory, decentralized actions'. They have also pointed towards the dramatic inequalities in water consumption around the world.
A person living in the United States uses an average of 250 to 300 litres a day, while the average Somali makes do with less than nine litres of water per day. An estimated 2.7 billion people will face water scarcity by 2025. More than 1.2 billion people currently lack access to safe water and 3 billion have inadequate sanitation. This leads to diseases that kill more than 5 million people each year, more than 2 million of them children under the age of five who succumb to diarrhoea-related illnesses. And the World water reserves are drying up fast due to climate change and pollution, according to an UN document.
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