privatization not the answer: American activist
By Kaho Shimizu
The Japan Times
Patrick McCully had a revelation in India more than a
decade ago. The campaign director of International Rivers
Network witnessed indigenous people in Gujarat state,
India, risking their lives to protest construction of
a dam on the Narmada River. All were eventually arrested,
but government officials and engineers covered it up,
claiming the case had been settled peacefully, he said.
This event in 1992 destroyed his faith in the aid policies
of international organizations, politicians and industry,
which he says are only looking out for themselves, and
set him on a course of crusading against large-scale dam
McCully, 37, will address several sessions of the World
Water Forum, which began Sunday in Kyoto, Osaka and Shiga
prefectures, as a representative of IRN, a U.S.-based
nongovernmental organization that works to halt destructive
"One of the main problems is that the way (these
interests) are being promoted is very undemocratic,"
McCully said, as most proposed projects are only for the
benefit of some politicians and the firms involved, and
do little for the country or local residents.
Large-scale dams and water privatization are expected
to be among the most contentious topics addressed by the
McCully said he hopes to convey the message that dams
and water privatization will not help achieve the U.N.
Millennium Development Goals, which aim to halve by 2015
the proportion of people who do not have access to or
are unable to afford safe water and sanitation.
There are better and cheaper ways to tackle water-related
problems than damming rivers, he said, citing time-tested
systems of collecting and storing rainwater.
Such methods can be used in developing countries that
have abundant rainfall but lack large-scale dams, he said.
Rainwater harvesting is increasingly drawing attention
as an environmentally sound approach to securing a sustainable
McCully said much of the electricity from hydroelectric
dams in developing countries is used inefficiently, with
most of it being stolen or lost during transmission. He
suggested such countries should consider renewable power
sources, including wind, solar and geothermal energy,
to meet growing demand.
McCully isn't automatically opposed to any river dam,
provided all parties involved agree on the necessity.
But only after fully assessing the need for a dam, and
reviewing all options to meet demands in an open way,
should a dam be considered, he said.
"(This process) can work not only for dams but for
all types of water and energy, and all types of development
projects," he said.
Asked about the issue of privatizing the water supply,
McCully said, "We are talking about 1 billion people
who don't have access to clean water and 2 billion people
who have no access to sanitation," but the private
sector cannot meet their needs because they are too poor.
Other low-cost technologies are available to solve water
problems, he said.
"There's no big mystery in meeting" the Millennium
Development Goals, he said. "It's certainly a challenge,
because a lot of people have to be supplied (with water),
but the technology is there, the money is there. It's
a question of political will."