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Great Lakes Article:

International water privatization "theft"
The Rhode Island Green

"The world's water supply is being stolen," said Ben Manski, Wisconsin Green and co-chair of the Green Party of the United States. "While attention has focused on the invasion of Iraq and the economy, officials at local, national, and international levels are quietly transferring public ownership and control of fresh water over to powerful corporations."

Greens point to evidence of the devastating economic and ecological effects of water privatization: higher prices and more frequent billing; neglected infrastructure; increased use of concrete and steel in environmentally harmful dams and pipes instead of measures to conserve water; bribery of public officials and cronyism in the awarding of contracts; wasteful salaries and bonuses for water company execs.

"Public officials are handing control over fresh water to corporations with little public knowledge or comment," said Badili Jones, Georgia Green and also a national party co-chair. "This is a matter of theft, after generations of Americans and people in other countries worked hard to build public water services."

According to leaked documents obtained and analyzed by Center for Public Integrity's International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, European Union trade representatives have asked 72 countries to open up their markets to private water companies during recent WTO negotiations.

Such a decision could turn control over U.S. water markets not only to American firms, but to European corporations such as Suez and Vivendi of France and the German-British conglomerate RWE-Thames. Corporations already control water systems used by more than 40 million people throughout North America, including about 15% of U.S. water systems. The mayor and city council of Stockton, California barred public scrutiny of a contract to grant control over water to OMI-Thames Water, a joint venture of American and British firms, with the excuse that the $600 deal was too complex for the public to understand.

"Deals like the one in Stockton prove that corporate influence over politicians overrides the lessons learned from Enron," said Alison "Sunny" Maynard, Colorado Green Party co-chair and water lawyer who has fought several cases to protect instream flows.

"The World Water Council and Global Water Partnership, organizers of the World Water Forum in Kyoto, Japan in March, expected those who attended to approve their plans to privatize water around the world," said Annie Goeke, co-chair of the Green Party's International Committee. "But public interest activists rejected these plans, and many instead signed on to the 'Water is Life' statement affirming that drinking water is a human right not to be placed under corporate ownership.

The IMF has imposed water privatization on many nations in order to spur investment. The result has been skyrocketing fees, greater poverty, and disease, including a cholera epidemic in Ghana among those who couldn't afford to buy clean drinking water. In Cochabamba, Bolivia, ownership of public water was transferred to a subsidiary of California-based Bechtel Group in 2000, which imposed a 200% rate hike equal to one quarter of the income of low-income citizens. In South Africa, poor families get their water cut off when they can't pay the bills.

"Bechtel has been granted a multibillion-dollar postwar contract in Iraq, where it will gain enormous political leverage during the U.S. occupation," added Maynard. "We have no doubt that U.S.-based companies like Bechtel are eyeing Iraq's valuable Tigris and Euphrates water supply."

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