WATER FORUM: Debate rages on issue of privatization
By Roy K. Akagawa
The Asahi Shimbun
OSAKA-In a conference marked by vague exhortations for
further dialogue and cooperation, some of the bluntest
comments at the Third World Water Forum come from sessions
dealing with the controversial topic of privatizing water
supply and sanitation services.
``If privatization does not work in a rich, industrialized
nation like the United States, how can it work on a global
scale?'' asked Wenonah Hauter of Public Citizen on Wednesday.
As examples of how privatization has failed in the United
States, Hauter cited the failure of a private firm to
provide water to Atlanta and a broad coalition that stopped
the privatization of New Orleans' water supply.
Claude Genereux, national secretary-treasurer of the
Canadian Union of Public Employees, urged caution over
new terminology being used by some large multinationals
involved in the global water business. In particular,
Genereux called the term ``public-private partnerships''
a ``new code word for privatization.''
Genereux's group and the Council of Canadians have been
the most vocal in opposing moves to privatize the water
As an example of the potential danger of private-sector
involvement, Genereux cited pollution of the water supply
for Hamilton, Ontario, after a U.S. firm abandoned a filtration
project. It was later learned the company had conducted
no water treatment for almost three years, leading to
the pollution of Lake Ontario.
Genereux's group has signed on to the Civil Society World
Water Vision for Action, a manifesto representing 150
NGOs, which rejects the very principles underlying the
policies and plans for the Third World Water Forum.
Water Vision representatives wearing signature headbands
with the slogan ``Water is Life'' in three languages have
been prevalent at different sessions of the conference.
Genereux said many Canadians took the privatization issue
seriously in the 1980s, when firms began proposing taking
over the water supply, because they felt the companies
``were like salesmen trying to sell sand to nomads.''
Canada has one of the highest levels of per capita freshwater
supply in the world.
For many developing nations that lack Canada's abundant
resources, however, some form of partnership with the
private sector may have to be an alternative, especially
to provide water and sanitation to the poor.
Sam Kayaga explained what his consulting company, WSS
Services Ltd. of Uganda, had accomplished in providing
water services to the poor in six small towns.
Almud Weitz, an economist with the Asian Development
Bank, also touched on how external support agencies, such
as the bank, could more effectively help nations seeking
Weitz said these agencies should target funding in client
nations to ensure extension of services goes to the poor.
Weitz said more rational debate was needed on how to set
water fees, adding that local governments should receive
help in dealing with some large companies, which may have
an inordinate and unfair amount of resources on their
Weitz said that with many private firms concentrating
on water supply, the public sector may have to handle
sanitation because of the larger investment requirements
involved.(IHT/Asahi: March 20,2003)