Water Privatisation Stirs Up Access Problem

Privatisation of water services hashad negative consequences in many countries, says theenvironmental network Friends of the Earth International, whichurges global resistance to the commercialisation andcommodification of this essential resource. GENEVA, Mar 10 (IPS) - Friends of theEarth, with offices in 68 countries and some million members,presented its report Monday in which it outlines the precedentsand outlook for the 3rd World Water Forum, to meet in thesouthwestern Japanese city of Kyoto, Mar 16-23.

The waterquestion is centred on its scarcity in many parts of the world, asituation aggravated by human activities that contaminate ordegrade the water sources. Degradation is attributed to theeffects of big hydroelectric dams, urban and industrial pollution,deforestation, widespread use of farm chemicals, waste disposaland mining.

Other factors limiting water availability are thetransformations of the global ecosystem caused by climatechange and desertification, says Friends of the Earth (FOEII) inWater Justice For All: Global and local resistance to the controland commodification of water.

The average human needs some50 litres of water each day to drink, to grow and cook food, towash and for sanitation. A person living in the United Statesuses an average of 250 to 300 litres a day, while the averageSomali makes do with less than nine litres of water per day, saysFOEII, highlighting the dramatic inequalities in waterconsumption. In 2000, there were 1.1 billion people on earthwho did not have regular access to potable water, and 2.4 billionwithout sanitation services, according to United Nationsestimates.

The Friends of the Earth study stresses that a majorproblem today is the privatisation of water sources anddistribution. The UN Commission on Economic, Social andCultural Rights issued a declaration in November 2002 thatwater should be considered a social and cultural good, notprimarily as an economic commodity. But international financialinstitutions, along with multinational water corporations, arepaving the way towards privatisation by making it a conditionfor granting loans to poor countries, says FOEI.

MichelCamdessus, former managing director of the InternationalMonetary Fund (IMF), led a group entrusted with studying thefinancing of the global water infrastructure, which will presenta report at the Kyoto meeting next week. The group's mandatewas to produce a plan for achieving one of the MillenniumDevelopment Goals established by the UN: by 2015 halve theproportion of people who did not have access to safe drinkingwater in the year 2000. Camdessus says in the report that thedream of clean water for all is within humanity's reach -- if theefforts pledged for 2015 are extended another 10 years...