NGOs Fear Water Privatisation
Inter-press Service News Agency
BRUSSELS - Civil society groups are calling on the EU
to ensure that a new initiative does not further water
privatisation in developing countries.
The groups are concerned that the Water Facility of the
European Union (EU) may support the expansion of private
sector water management in some of the poorer countries.
The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU,
adopted a proposal in January to allocate 1.2 billion
dollars to improve access to water and sanitation for
the Africa, Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP) bloc. The
group comprises 77 countries.
Forty of these are considered to be among the least developed
countries (LDCs). They are economically vulnerable and
heavily dependent on EU aid.
The Commission's proposal follows in part a commitment
made at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in
Johannesburg in 2002 to deliver on the millennium development
goal of halving the number of people without access to
safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.
About 1.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking
water, and 2.4 billion people to sanitation.
Despite progress towards these goals, the Commission
says funds remain scarce. Officials say a further 52.2
billion dollars is needed to meet water and sanitation
Half of the fund (some 612 billion dollars) will be allocated
to the Water Facility now, while a decision on the second
half of the money will be made by March 2005.
The European Commission said last month that it was "making
use of all available funds to reach the target."
It said the funds would "attract more investors and
will act as a catalyst to raise capital funding and reduce
the risks involved."
Poul Nielson, EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian
Aid, says the EU needs to take a "bold and urgent
decision" to address the water crisis in the ACP
A consortium of non-governmental organisations (NGOs),
led by AEFJN (Africa-Europe Faith and Justice Network),
Both ENDS, POLLEN and the Corporate Europe Obervatory,
say the EU's Water Facility should "facilitate the
expansion and upgrade of public-run drinking water and
The NGOs say in a statement that they welcome the water
initiative as a "contribution towards the improvement
of water and sanitation in ACP countries" but that
the EU proposal must "prioritise capacity building
above infrastructure or promoting private investments."
The group says the Commission's proposal "simply
assumes that the role of the private water industry needs
to be expanded" but "provides no evidence of
the merits of this assumption."
The NGOs expressed concern that the record of the private
water industry in developing countries in recent years
has not "systematically been assessed, despite high-profile
failures and malpractices."
The group says that instead of subsidising privatisation
of water management, the funds should strengthen the public
sector to ensure "effective public management delivering
affordable water to all."
The group points to a European Parliament resolution
last year which insisted "on the need for local public
authorities to be given support in their efforts towards
establishing an innovative, participatory, democratic
system of public water management that is efficient, transparent
and regulated and that respects the objectives of sustainable
development in order to meet the population's needs."
The NGOs say that the Water Facility should also address
the lack of management and infrastructure in developing
countries. They are calling on the EU to "dedicate
all, or at least a major part, of the Facility's funds
to strengthening public skills and management capacities."
Stefan Verwer from the group Both ENDS which supports
environmental organisations in the South fears that the
Commission will use the fund to further water privatisation
in poor countries.
"The EU is going to force private investors impose
policies on developing countries instead of strengthening
management. There won't be the public capacity to monitor
it," he told IPS.
Marc Maes from the Belgian NGO 11.11.11. agrees. "Developing
countries can't support projects like this in their public
sector," Maes told IPS. "The EU is leading them
Jean-Charles Ellermann-Kingombe, spokesperson for Nielson
told IPS: "On capacity building and support to enabling
environment - that is very much part of what the facility
is intended to finance. But it will also contribute to
infrastructure investments and these investments just
have a different price tag."
He added: "We are aware of some NGOs' reluctance
of involving private investments. But with an estimated
annual financing gap of 42 billion euros (51.5 billion
dollars)if we are to meet the Millennium Development Goals,
we cannot afford not to deal with the private sector."
A decision on the final "modalities" of the
Water Facility is due next week.