Netherlands: Launch of the Social Watch Report 2003

Sita Dewkalie

On 23 April Novib, in collaboration with the National Commission for Sustainable Development (NCDO), presented the Social Watch Report for 2003 entitled “The Poor and the Market” to the Dutch parliament.

In 1995, during the Social Summit in Copenhagen, 120 government leaders joined forces to tackle poverty, exclusion and unemployment. Civic organizations that were present at the conference decided to monitor their governments closely and to check whether they kept their promises. This signalled the launch of Social Watch, a network of 503 civic organizations from the North and South. Every year, Social Watch publishes a report in which each organization discusses the state of affairs in its own country. Novib is a member of Social Watch and was present at the birth of the Social Watch initiative in Copenhagen.
Many of its counterparts are members and it also contributes to the funding.

On 23 April Novib, in collaboration with the National Commission for Sustainable Development (NCDO), presented the Social Watch Report for 2003 entitled “The Poor and the Market” to the Dutch parliament. The report uses statistics and “case studies” to show the extent to which countries in the world have complied with the social-economic objectives which were agreed within a UN framework. The report examines per country whether progress is being made in the areas of health, sanitation, education and emancipation or whether stagnation is affecting the range and quality of services and the socio-economic position that deprived groups are assuming in society. In 2003, the focus of the report is on public rights and goods and services and the privatisation thereof, the role of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other development banks and the effects of the privatisation of basic social services for the poor and women.

No two markets are the same

Novib is of the opinion that markets for water, health and education are not the same as markets for production goods. It believes that such markets should not be subject to the same rules. Human rights, social justice and government responsibility are matters which are vitally important and which play a role in these markets.

These public goods have crucial effects, not only on the welfare of individuals, but also on the welfare of entire societies. Access to clean water is, for example, of major importance for the health situation of large groups of people.

Privatisation of drinking water in Ghana

Social opposition to the plans for privatisation is growing. To illustrate this point, Novib invited Gyeke Tanoh from its Ghanaian counterpart the National Coalition Against Privatisation of Water, to explain the negative consequences of water privatisation for poor people in his country. In Ghana, the plan to privatise urban and national water systems has met with considerable resistance from the population. The main focus of the discussion is whether water is a right or a commodity. The Ghanaian government estimates that around 66 percent of the residents of the cities and 37 percent of the rural population can, in theory, get healthy drinking water form water pipes. However, it has transpired that 78 percent of the urban poor scarcely have any access to healthy drinking water because they are not connected to the system. The majority of urban residents have to purchase the water they need each day from traders at prices which are seven times higher than those for well-to-do households. Gayeke Tanoh observed that privatisation of the water sector in Ghana primarily implies a take-over of the public sector by private parties or multinationals. Multinationals are being offered free access to, and control over, the water sector. Furthermore, profit guarantees are being given and the risks of currency variations and inflationary developments covered via the IMF’s so-called “automatic rate adjustment formula”.

Unaffordable for poor people

The drinking water systems are now to be taken over by two companies, each with a monopoly for their part of the system. The government is reducing investments in the drinking water system and the companies are now also going to have to contribute. The government continues to be responsible for facilities that generate little income and the companies are therefore guaranteed income from users of the drinking water system through the application of commercial prices. This means that water is no longer affordable for poor people. The establishment of an umbrella organisation against the privatisation of water has led to increased opposition and a campaign is currently being waged against the government’s plan. An international mission has investigated what the consequences will be of the introduction of privatisation. The mission has come to the conclusion that the proposal is no the best option for clean and affordable drinking water and has recommended that open dialogue and consultations be engaged in with the whole spectrum of interested parties in order to draw up an alternative proposal. In the Netherlands, the water sector is still under government control, but the government is not applying this to its policy vis-à-vis developing countries.

Sita Dewkalie, Novib


Policy Advisor Basic Social Services

Novib-Oxfam Netherlands

NETWORK No. 3 / June 2003