Africa: World Water Forumj, 03/17/03

Africa: World Water Forumj, 03/17/03

AFRICA ACTION Africa Policy E-Journal March 17, 2003 (030317)

Africa: World Water Forum (Reposted from sources cited below)

This posting contains excerpts from the official press release announcing the World Water Forum now taking place in Kyoto, Japan; a longer background article and critique from a civil society perspective, by Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians; and links for additional sources on issues of water and water privatization.

Another posting today contains brief excerpts from The Water Barons, an extensive report on water privatization around the world, including South Africa and the United States, from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

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March 10, 2003

Official Press Release (excerpts)

The 3rd World Water Forum Opens March 16th Crucial Water Issues to be addressed

The most important international water meeting ever opens in Kyoto, Japan on March 16th to address life and death issues. These range from helping the 2.7 billion people who will face water scarcity by 2025 and preventing the 5 million annual deaths from water-related diseases, to growing dangers of accelerating conflicts over water and saving the world's lakes, rivers and wetlands. ...

Over the next 20 years, the average supply of water per person is expected to drop by one-third, according to the World Water Assessment Programme, issued by the UN earlier this month. ...

Some 10,000 government officials, representatives of international organizations such as the World Bank, and UN organizations such as UNESCO and UNEP, along with water experts, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the media are slated to attend the meeting, many more than the number of participants at the 2nd World Water Forum (The Hague, 2000). ...

Nowadays, 800 million people are going hungry because they cannot afford to buy food. More than 1.2 billion people currently lack access to safe water and 3 billion have inadequate sanitation. This leads to diseases that kill more than 5 million people each year, more than 2 million of them children under the age of five who succumb to diarrhea-related illnesses.

Poor residents have few options but to live in squalid, unsafe environments. In addition, the circumstances of these poor communities contribute to environmental deterioration, through water pollution and floods in neighboring areas caused by blocked drainage systems.

The 40 worst water-famished countries in the world, in many of which people live on just two gallons a day for all uses, can never escape poverty and achieve sustainable development without first addressing their water scarcity, global water experts say.

This amount is far less than the 50-liter (13.2 gallons) per day level that the United Nations says constitutes the absolute minimum for water needs. The daily per capita water requirements include 5 liters for drinking, 20 for sanitation and hygiene, 15 for bathing and 10 for food preparation, per person.

"Only about 60 percent of the 680 million people in Sub-Sahara Africa have access to safe water supplies," says Professor Albert Wright, Chairman of the African Water Task Force and Co-chairman of the UN's Task Force on the Millennium Goals for Water. "Incredibly, people in 13 countries, nine of them in Africa, must try and live on an average of less than 10 liters (2.6 gallons) per day, a truly desperate situation. Poverty and lack of water is inextricably linked for these people (in countries such as The Gambia, Haiti, Djibouti, Somalia, Mali, Cambodia, Mozambique, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Albania and Bhutan)." In this context, one of the eight United Nations Millennium Goals (MDGs) from September 2000 to "Ensure environmental sustainability," mentions as one major objective "to reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water" by 2015. (on MDG see:

Rich and poor nations both need better water management -- The newly developed international Water Poverty Index (WPI), by the UK's Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, finds that some of the world's richest nations such as the United States and Japan fare poorly in water ranking because they consume more than they need and still deal inadequately with pollution. At the same time, some developing countries score in the top ten, because they either have a great deal of water or have good plans in place in how to use it.

The Water Poverty Index, developed by a team of 31 researchers in consultation with more than 100 water professionals from around the world, grades 147 countries according to five different measures - resources, access, capacity, use and environmental impact -- to show where the best and worst water situations exist.

According to the WPI, the top 10 water-richest nations in the world are, in descending order: Finland, Canada, Iceland, Norway, Guyana, Suriname, Austria, Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland. The 10 countries lowest on the Water Poverty Index are all in the developing world -- Haiti, Niger, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Malawi, Djibouti, Chad, Benin, Rwanda, and Burundi. ...


The 3rd World Water Forum: A Civil Society Backgrounder

by Maude Barlow, Council of Canadians

>From March 16-22 of this year, an estimated 8,000 people from all over the world will gather in Kyoto, Japan, to attend the 3rd World Water Forum. There, decisions will be made about the future of the world's freshwater resources that will affect every living being on the planet. This memo is offered as a brief history of the events and players instrumental in the lead-up to this forum and is a critique of the private sector interests that have developed around the control of water.

The Backdrop

The world is running out of fresh water. Humanity is polluting, diverting and depleting the finite wellspring of life at a startling rate. Our per capita use of water is doubling every 20 years, at more than twice the rate of human population growth. A legacy of factory farming, flood irrigation, the construction of massive dams, toxic dumping, wetland and forest destruction and urban and industrial pollution has damaged the earth's surface water so badly that we are now mining the underground water reserves far faster than nature can replenish them.

Quite simply, unless we dramatically change our ways, between one-half and two-thirds of humanity will be living with severe fresh water shortages within the next quarter century. The global fresh water crisis looms as one of the greatest threats ever to the survival of our planet.

Tragically, this global call for action comes in an era guided by the free-market principles of what has been called the "Washington Consensus." This includes an unprecedented assault on the commons. Everything is now for sale, even those areas of life, such as social services and natural resources, that were once considered the common heritage of humanity. Faced with the suddenly well-documented fresh water crisis, governments and international institutions are advocating the privatization and commodification of water. Price water, they say in chorus; put it up for sale and let the market determine its future.

At the same time, governments are signing away their control over domestic water supplies to regional trade agreements like NAFTA and the World Trade Organization (WTO). These global trade institutions effectively give transnational corporations unprecedented access to the fresh water resources of signatory countries. Already, corporations have started to sue governments in order to gain access to domestic water sources and, armed with the protection of these international trade agreements, are setting their sights on the commercialization of water.

The Corporate Players

There are ten major corporate players now delivering freshwater services for profit. Between them, the two biggest - Vivendi and Suez of France - deliver private water and wastewater services to over 200 million customers in 150 countries, and are in a race, along with the others such as Bouygues SAUR, RWE-Thames Water and Bechtel-United Utilities, to expand to every corner of the globe.

The performance of these companies in Europe and the developing world has been well documented: huge profits, higher prices for water, cut-offs to customers who cannot pay, little transparency in their dealings, reduced water quality, bribery and corruption. They are aggressively accelerating their operations in Third World countries where debt-struck governments are forced to abandon public water services and hand over control of local water supplies to private interests. Based on the market policy known as "full cost recovery," the water companies are able to impose rate hikes that are devastating to millions of poor people who cannot afford privatized water.

A new type of water consortium has emerged in Germany which may be a prototype for the future. Companies such as AquaMundo put together giant investment pools using overseas government aid, private bank investments and public utilities funds in the recipient country. Then, in an arrangement called "cross-border leasing," they hire local contractors to run the water services. Some keep their money in tax havens, thus allowing them to avoid paying national taxes; this lets them offer a "deal" to local cash-strapped municipalities.

Transnational water companies have become so powerful that they now share in decision making with governments in international meetings. United under the banner of the corporate lobby group, Business Action for Sustainable Development, the water companies played a pivotal role at the World Summit on Sustainable Development that was held in Johannesburg, South Africa, last August 26-September 4. There, with governments and the United Nations, they launched a "new" strategy for the delivery of efficient water and sanitation services to the world's poor which accelerates public-private partnerships, guaranteeing the companies a steady profit from public funds.

Water for profit takes a number of other forms. The bottled water industry is growing at an annual rate of 20 percent. Last year, nearly 100 billion litres of bottled water were sold around the world - most of it in non-reusable plastic containers, bringing in profits of $22 billion to this highly-polluting industry. Fierce disputes, especially in the Third World, are being waged between local communities and companies like CocaCola and Nestle, aggressively seeking new supplies of "boutique water." As one company explains, water is now "a rationed necessity that may be taken by force."

Corporations are now involved in the construction of massive pipelines to carry freshwater long distances for commercial sale while others are constructing supertankers and giant sealed water bags to transport vast amounts of water across the ocean to paying customers. The mass movement of bulk water could have catalytic environmental impacts. Nevertheless, the World Bank says that, "One way or another, water will soon be moved around the world as oil is now."

The Institutional Players

Private water companies are aided and abetted by a number of powerful international institutions with whom they work closely. The main source of financing of private water services in the Third World comes from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which demands private water services in exchange for debt relief, the World Bank, which can withhold project funds unless a country cooperates, and a myriad of regional banks, such as the European Investment Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the African Development Bank.

The World Bank serves the interests of water companies through the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which provides loans to governments and can impose conditions in exchange for money, and the International Finance Corporation, which provides direct capital funding.

The World Trade Organization is another powerful institution that promotes the commodification of water. The WTO is mandated to remove tariff and non-tariff barriers to the free flow of goods, including water, across national borders and is negotiating free trade in water services through the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). The big water corporations have strategically positioned themselves to play an effective role in the WTO through two powerful lobby groups - the U.S. Coalition of Service Industries and the European Forum on Services.

The United Nations has also been working closely with the big water corporations. In July, 2000, the UN announced a "Global Compact" with a number of global transnational companies, including Suez. And it is through UN conferences and forums that three important new international organizations promoting water-for-profit have been created.

The Global Water Partnership was established in 1996 to reform water utility systems and water resource management around the world and is funded in part by the World Bank. The World Water Council, also formed in 1996, sees itself as a policy think tank whose main task is to provide decision makers with advice and assistance on global water issues. Made up of 175 member groups, the WWC organized the 2nd World Water Forum in The Hague in March, 2000.

The World Commission on Water for the 21st Century, formed in 1998, is composed of 21 "eminent" persons and is mandated with fostering sustainable use of water resources.

Representatives of the global water corporations are strategically placed at the top levels of all three of these agencies. Their industry association, the International Private Water Association, works closely with the World Water Council, the World Bank and the UN.

The 2nd World Water Forum

All of the above were major players at the 2nd World Water Forum held in The Hague in March, 2000, and are intimately involved in preparations for the 3rd World Water Forum to be held in Japan in March, 2003. From the beginning, the 2nd World Water Forum, which was attended by over 5,000 people, was designed to be a showcase for public-private partnerships and to create a "consensus" among all the "stakeholders" that privatization and full cost recovery are the answers for the world's water crisis. World Bank and water corporation officials dominated the positions of power in every session; civil society groups were not even given a place to meet. Translation services for the myriad of non-English speaking delegates were non-existent.

The World Water Council presented its pre-written World Water Vision report endorsing an aggressive water-privatization agenda to the Forum as a "fait accompli." The Vision, which also recommended a corporate model of agriculture, was adopted by the powers that ran the event, even though the statement was opposed by the majority of civil society groups present.

As well, pushed by corporate representatives, the 140 governments officials who attended the Ministerial Conference attached to the Forum, agreed to weaken their final declaration. Instead of water being declared a "basic human right" (which would mean that governments were responsible for ensuring that all their citizens have access to water on a not-for-profit basis), the government delegates agreed only that water is a "basic human need," thereby opening up the water market to companies on a for-profit basis.

However, it was not so simple for the organizers of the event. A new international coalition of civil society organizations and trade unions came together in the Hague to challenge the corporate "consensus." The Blue Planet Project, made up of groups from many countries, launched an "international effort to stop the privatization of the world's fresh water" and challenged the Forum organizers from the floor, at press conferences, and with a "NGO Major Group Statement" to the Ministerial Conference. This statement rejected the World Water Council's Vision, asserted that water is a basic human right and called for the decommodification of water.

The 3rd World Water Forum

Since The Hague, civil society groups have been growing and consolidating their work. They met at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in January, 2002, and at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, in August, 2002. With international groups present, Japanese civil society organizations met in March, 2002, to plan their strategy toward the 3rd World Water Forum. There, they agreed to participate in the Forum as long as the goal was to put forward a clear alternative vision and strategy to the World Water Council.

This planning was further evolved at an international strategy meeting held in Ottawa in October, 2002. Here participants agreed that the main goals would be to split the World Water Council "consensus" on a corporate model of water governance and to promote a new democracy model of water governance. It was understood that the Forum, unlike a meeting of the World Bank or the WTO, will attract thousands of people who might actually agree with the emerging civil society consensus around water and that it is essential to put forward an alternative vision at the event.

The 3rd World Water Forum in Kyoto will play a major role in determining the future of the world's freshwater resources. Civil society must be there in strength. Future generations depend on it.


Additional Links on World Water Forum and Water Privatization

"Day of Africa" at World Water Forum (includes some panel presentations)

AfricaSan Conference, 2002 (African Sanitation and Hygiene Conference)

Citizens' Network on Essential Services (extensive documentation in Water Policy Series briefings)

Webcast of World Water Forum by IDRC

Southernlinks (includes documentation latest European Union pressure on WTO members to privatize services).

Previous documents in Africa Policy E-Journal

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Date distributed (ymd): 030317 Region: Continent-Wide Issue Areas: +economy/development+


Message-Id: <> From: "Africa Action" <> Date: Mon, 17 Mar 2003 13:37:44 -0500 Subject: Africa: World Water Forum

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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