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The Water Barons

The Water Barons The explosive growth of three private water utility companies in the last 10 years raises fears that mankind may be losing control of its most vital resource to a handful of monopolistic corporations. In Europe and North America, analysts predict that within the next 15 years these companies will control 65 percent to 75 percent of what are now public waterworks.

This Center for Public Integrity mini-site details the worldwide push by multi-national corporations (often fronted by the World Bank and IMF) to privatize water, something which generally leads to higher prices and reduced water quality.

Water privatization forced by World Bank

World Bank forced water privatizationThe rush to privatize water continues unencumbered, despite its unpopularity among residents worldwide who are affected by it. Countries faced with large debts are forced by the World Bank and IMF to privatize water. Water deregulation is a common demand of the World Bank and IMF as part of their loan conditions. In 2000, out of 40 IMF loans distributed through the International Finance Corporation, 12 had requirements of partial or full privatization of water supplies.

They also insisted on the creation of policies to stimulate "full cost recovery" and the elimination of subsidies. African governments, such as Ghana, increasingly give in to pressures for water privatization. In Ghana, the World Bank and IMF policies forced the sale of water at market rate, requiring the poor to spend up to 50 percent of their earnings on water purchases.

As Vandana Shiva writes in Water Wars, "The water crisis is the most pervasive, most severe, and most invisible dimension of the ecological devastation of the earth."

This is from the amazingly comprehensive Water is Life "class website on water privatization and commodification, produced by students of Geography 378 at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, USA, May 2004." They have a huge amount of information and links on water privatization, check it out.

A water oligopoly in the making?

From Oligopoly Watch:

New federal regulations in the US seem likely to trigger the rapid oligopolization of the US water utility market. That’s according to a story in The New York Times ("It Doesn’t Mix With Oil, and the Market Is Drinking It Up", 10/30/2005).

Currently, most the US’s water and sewage systems are owned by local, municipal or semi-public companies. There are a total 55,000 of such utilities, and (according to the article, 95% of them serve fewer than 3,000 homes each. Most of these systems are over 50 years old, and many are in need of serious maintenance campaigns.

But the kicker is that these cash-starved services are about to get hit by new government regulations.

These regs, which mandate new water quality standards, make it likely these small water companies will get bought out by enormous multinational water companies. Sure, we need clean water, but when an enormous French, British, or US multinational owns the water system in your town, I’m guessing they will put profit before anything else. And that’s hardly a guarantee of clean, reasonably priced water, now is it? Because suddenly your water system is no longer public, can be bought and sold without the say of those who use the water, and unless you think the Enron debacles were a good thing, then let’s keep water public and affordable.

Water for profit

How multinationals are taking control of a public resource

Canadian Broadcasting produced this comprehensive 5-part series in 2003 on water privatization. Check it out.

Water, like air, is a necessity of human life. It is also, according to Fortune magazine, "One of the world’s great business opportunities. It promises to be to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th."

In the past ten years, three giant global corporations have quietly assumed control over the water supplied to almost 300 million people in every continent of the world. A 12-month investigation by journalists in Canada, the U.S., Europe, Asia and Latin America shows that the results range from questionable to disastrous. And it shows how well-meaning municipal governments in the U.S. and Canada can become vulnerable to the persuasive techniques of these high-powered corporate giants. 

Water is a right, not a commodity to be bought and sold to whoever pays the most. Privatization of water is being forced by multinationals, aided and abetted by the World Bank. It generally ends up depriving the needy of that most basic right, the right to drink clean, affordable water.

Mexico: Demands surfacing for water

Environmental issues scarcely make the top of the news unless a disaster occurs, such as Hurricane Stan, or unless a homicide claims an activist, such as Parota Dam opponent Tomás Cruz Zamora.

So it is not surprising that the Mexican Coalition of Organizations for the Right to Water attracted little attention with its Oct. 11 debut.

But the minimal coverage belies the groundswell of interest in water issues that is building in the lead-up to the World Bank’s Fourth World Water Forum set for March in Mexico City. The 16 groups that recently founded the coalition will sponsor an alternative to the event, featuring a tribunal that will bring to task three cases of water mismanagement in the hemisphere.

The main concerns of the water activists are unfair distribution of water, privatization of water services, and lack of mechanisms guaranteeing public participation in water decisions.

This is a worldwide issue and struggle. Large corporations, aided and abetted by the World Bank, want to privatize water. Inevitably the price of water goes up and the quality goes down when public water is privatized. Access to clean, low cost water is a right. It shouldn’t be controlled by corporations who only care about making a profit. 

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