Παρασκευή, 2 Σεπτεμβρίου 2016

Africa: trapped in water privatization - The global market scene of the “blue gold”!

Note of our blog: The African Orthodox Church (Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa) has opened many tens or hundreds of wells in African countries. So trying to help the African people to have access to drinking water. Photo from here.

Africa: trapped in water privatization

A friend of mine recently complained that she now had to pay for water as it was no longer included in her rent. She now has to be more conscious about the amount of water she uses for showering and washing dishes.
Water is one of those natural resources which those living in the Global North take for granted: turn the tap on and the water flows. No need to think about where it comes from or whether it’s connected to rain patterns. It’s like buying roast chicken in a supermarket – people don’t always make the connection between a live chicken and the packaged end product, as in something that died in the process.  
This distance between the raw resource and the end product is huge. By distancing ourselves from the origins of a product we are less likely to be concerned with any abuse and exploitation that takes place before the final product reaches us.
The water situation in Africa is even more sinister. The continent’s re-colonization in the form of land grab and privatization is compromising autonomous and sustainable community development. The new colonizers are not just countries such as Saudi Arabia, Korea, Kuwait, Japan, or corporations – Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley – but also US academic institutions such as Harvard University and Vanderbilt University. Sékou Diarra describes this logic of capitalism as the ‘commodification of life’ in Pambazuka News:  
‘Nowadays, politicians in Africa are generally more concerned with market efficiency, economic growth rates, productivity of financial capital and the security of the rich than they are about human rights and the security of the people. In African countries, if progress is identified with economic growth alone, it leads to the gradual loss of the representative aspects of their institutions and an increasing gap between public institutions and citizens; the latter are considered as consumers, clients, people with savings, all merely aimed at benefiting the stock exchanges.’
Mali is one of the countries that experience both land grab and privatization of their water. Mali’s neighbour Niger continues to suffer the effects of the 2010 drought and famine. The majority of Niger’s people are poor, so the country cannot afford to privatize water because it would lead to disastrous consequences for its already impoverished population.
But the trick is that Niger, as well as many other countries, receives World Bank/IMF funds on condition that their utilities, including water, are privatized. Privatization of water is also one of the main demands the G8 leaders are imposing on countries seeking debt relief and further aid.
Since 1992, six privatization contracts were awarded to foreign, mainly French, companies in South Africa. The losers of this affair are the poor communities for whom the right to water – a fundamental and inalienable human right – is denied. Following this, environmental pollution, preventable diseases and violence against neighbours increased. What decreased was the people’s dignity, because they’re forced to steal water from each other to survive.
In Ghana, after privatization water charges increased by 95 per cent; one third of Ghana’s population has no access to clean water. Immediately after independence, President Kwame Nkrumah set up a policy of nationalization, but it changed in the 1990s, when the period of ‘liberalization’ and water privatization began. 

Water privatization is not the only way in which people are being disenfranchised and impoverished – multinational corporations also exploit their water resources and commercialize natural spring water (they then sell it back to the source countries in bottles). An excellent example is Nestlé. As I wrote two years ago:
Nestlé is the global leader in the exploitation of water across the globe. It has 67 bottling factories and sells in more than 130 countries. In Pakistan, Nestlé, the world leader in bottled water, invented a “blue-print factory” that could be shipped to any location in the world. It chose Pakistan for a number of reasons, one of which is that it is the only country in the region that has an unregulated groundwater sector, meaning that anyone can simply dig a hole and extract as much water as they want without paying a penny. The Pure Life water has been produced in Pakistan, Asia, Africa and South America and is marketed as “capturing nature in its purest form”. In short, Nestlé now owns and distributes “nature” on every continent.’ (New Internationalist)


The small village in Spain in which I lived for a while had two natural springs, each with its own mineral content. The water came from the mountains and was available for everyone through two water fountains in the village. That’s how it should be – water in its purest form, free for all. 

What does water privatization really mean

save greek water

March 2001.The World Water Council and the UN organize a Global Forum in which water is first characterized clearly as a product.
The policy to be followed of tackling the global problem of water scarcity is decided, later on, at the same conference :
The management of water is now assigned to the free market competition.
Since then the global market scene of “blue gold”, as now called water , is formed by three major multinational companies, French Suez and Vivendi, which now lies under the name Veolia, and Water Thames.
These three companies are among the top 100 companies in the world with the annual income of all three in 2003 to estimated at $ 156.7 billion.
Is also mentioned that they control the water supply in about 230 countries on five continents [1].
Proponents of privatization of water will rub their hands reading the above data as well as consider that privatization is the only way of handling the water in poor Third World countries, which face the greatest water shortages problems.
They would even add, that in this way, everyone would have access to better services and could bypass the bureaucracy and corruption. A few years ago also they could support these arguments with powerful examples of cities and countries of successful implementation of water’s privatization. Unfortunately for them these examples are becoming fewer and fewer.

In August 2000, South Africa was hit by a cholera epidemic, which affected more than 250,000 people within two years and resulted in 300 deaths [2]. According to scholars, the outbreak epidemic was due to inability of residents to pay the price for clean water, so they resort to unsafe, inappropriate sources of drinking water. Bad outcome had the effort of water privatization in Bolivia where excessive tariff increases and the sealing of citizens private boreholes, resulted in widespread protests, whose repression led to the death of two people.
Finally, in 1988 the Thatcher government in England gave a large number of water organizations to private companies providing a range of facilities such as exemption from taxes, debt relief, etc.

These companies moved on unacceptable measures related to the establishment of a specific pre-paid card giving access to the water only by pay the fee in advance and also to the interruption of water supply to those who couldn’t be able to pay, a fact which caused widespread reactions. Unfortunately the sufferings do not end here.
The same time that the World Bank is pushing governments to proceed with privatization, putting it as a term to countries loans, the European Commission sent letters to 72 countries asking them to “open their markets to water trade,” while earlier correspondence with representatives of large multinational water companies have leaked to the press. In France multinational executives and politicians prosecuted on charges of bribery and corruption. In the meanwhile, the press has classified, Suez and Vivendi as excellent source of revenue for election and post-electoral political campaigns [3] ( not to forget our neighborhood also, French company Suez already controls some of the shareholders of Thessaloniki Water Supply Organization and an increase of this percentage is expected! )
At the same time that large multinational negotiate million dollar agreements with governments, 1.1 billion people lack access to clean drinking water and 1.8 million deaths per year due to diseases caused by inadequate drinking water [4]. With all these said, those who understand what awaits us all, do.

Sources :

[1] ICIJ, The water barons, available on page http://projects.publicintegrity.org/water/
[2] CBC News, Who’s hand on the tap? Available on page
[3] ICIJ, Water and power: The French connection, available on page
[4] Annual Report of the United Nations for the problem of water scarcity

Please, see also

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