Water – artificially priced branded product or common good?

Multinationals want to cash in on developing countries

The environment-"Nobel Prize" goes this year to lawyer Rudolf Amenga-Etego from Ghana, who successfully fought against the privatization of water in his home country. The debate about whether the "blue gold" of our planet should be a commodity is ongoing.

Last week in San Francisco, the prestigious Goldman Prize, also known as the Nobel Prize for the Environment, was awarded and has been awarded since 1990. Each laureate receives 125 000 dollars. This year it was awarded again to environmental activists from all continents, among them Rudolf Amenga-Etego, who founded the National Coalition Against Privatization of Water. He is trying to prevent the sellout of Ghana’s water supply to international corporations.

This is a David vs. Goliath battle, but Amenga-Etego has experience with that. In the early 1980s, he protested against the military regime in his home country and was imprisoned for it. Since the late 1990s, he has represented poor families in court who are unable to pay their water bills. Increasingly, he saw that too many people could no longer afford the ever-rising prices for the essentials of life.

Water - artificially priced branded product or common good?

Protest banner of the "Ghana National Coalition Against Privatization of Water"

In 2001, the Ghanaian government doubled the price of water under prere from the World Bank and the International Development Fund. According to the plans of the international donors, the liberalization of the water supply should increase its effectiveness. The idea is that a hitherto expensive public task will be eliminated and the highly indebted state will be relieved of the burden.

In the West African country, however, 70 percent of the population has no direct access to clean water. The result is widespread serious diseases such as cholera, typhoid and Guinea worm infections. The rest of the population often has to spend 10 to 20 percent of their income on drinking water. The consequence is that the own children, especially the girls, are no longer sent to school in order to save money.

The water vultures are already circling

Privatization will lead to further price increases. Multinationals such as Veolia (formerly Vivendi), Suez Lyonnaise or Thames-Water from RWE are in the starting blocks to enter the lucrative business.

Amenga-Etego not only wants to keep water in state hands, he envisions local communities taking over the distribution of water to end users, including pricing. He explained to Time magazine:

"That means putting the power back in the hands of the people. Water is life and when people have control over their own lives, they are encouraged to be more productive."

Coalition Fights World Bank, IMF Privatization Scheme

The broad grassroots movement of the National Coalition Against Privatization of Water forced the government of Ghana last year to put the liberalization plans on hold. But in December 2004, parliamentary elections will be held, which could change everything again. The World Bank wants to showcase Ghana as a model for the successful denationalization of the water sector and is launching a major PR campaign to promote it through all media in the West African country. The fight has just begun.

1.2 billion people worldwide lack access to clean drinking water. Around 2.2 million people die each year as a result of polluted water. The demand for clean "blood of the planet" steigt und Verteilungskonflikte sind zu erwarten. Ismail Serageldin, Vice President of the World Bank, predicted in 1995: "While the wars of this century were fought over oil, the wars of the next century will be fought over water."

The business of water will lead to more death traps

The age of water wars has dawned (The Rough Thirst), the first local "battles" have already taken place, especially in Cochabamba, Bolivia (Global Battle for Blue Gold), but also in Perumatty, India (Unthinkable, Undrinkable) or in Sao Lourenco, Brazil (Water Privatization in Brazil and the ‘Case’ of Nestle).

In its Millennium Declaration in 2000, the United Nations resolved to halve the proportion of people without access to clean or affordable water by 2015, and to protect the water resource. However, it does not look like this goal will be achieved; if anything, the crisis is worsening (Water Aid). Water is, in real terms, an increasingly scarce resource and, for that very reason, big business (Preprogrammed Afterthirst). Rough profits are predicted. Experts estimate that internationally ready 400 billion dollar annually are obtained world-wide. Monthly analyses keep the interested investor up to date for a long time (Global Water Intelligence). A lot of money shimmers in the clear drinking water and even more in the turbid broth of the waste water.

Water money does not stink?

At the sight of the euphoria of the corporations, environmentalists are already auctioning themselves off to the saying, according to which shareholder value will rule even in the kitchen and on the toilet. "Water is not a commodity, it is a human right" say activists like Rudolf Amenga-Etego, because it is the basis of life. In Europe, the politicians agree with him, as long as it is a question of the basic needs of their own citizens. In Germany, plans to privatize the drinking water supply are off the table. It remains in the hands of the municipalities. In development aid and economic. economic cooperation, however, the same politicians see things somewhat differently.

As the political magazine Monitor recently reported ("Blue Gold" – War for Drinking Water), the European Union, which is home to the major companies involved, is making intensive efforts to privatize the water markets in developing countries. Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians) commented on the program:

"The European Union is pushing the privatization of water in the GATS services agreement. She is putting prere on them because the big three water companies come from Europe. There are Suez and Vivendi from France and RWE from Germany. And these three control the bulk of the privatized water."

The EU refuses to liberalize its own market, but has secretly asked more than 70 countries to open their water supply to big companies. In the meantime, the SPD parliamentary group has reacted to the television report, telling the press that it finds the criticism of the EU’s double standards justified:

"The GATS agreement is intended to open up water markets around the world to European utilities and to make water a profitable and tradable commodity, while at the same time protecting domestic markets from the consequences of liberalization elsewhere.(…) It is obvious that liberalization in the water sector does not, as has often been claimed, mobilize capital for necessary investments and maintenance, thus ensuring a long-term and secure supply. On the contrary, it has been shown that the large corporations acting as operators were mainly interested in short-term profit absorption and that sustainable water management is not in the foreground. (…) Water is not an arbitrary commodity like cell phones or popcorn, it is the basis of life for man and nature. Access, security of supply and quality must be ensured by democratic structures and institutions."

Liberalization of water markets is unacceptable: water is not a commodity

This sounds very true, but if you read the documents of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, you will be surprised to find that they say something completely different in black and white. Low water prices and subsidies are named as causes for the insufficient water supply in developing countries, and water management by national institutions is described as inefficient.

The Federal Republic of Germany does not speak out against liberalization in the international arena. On the contrary, there is talk of calling for "partnerships between the private sector and states" and it is emphasized that a stronger international commitment of the German water industry is desirable and "desired and advantageous" and advantageous, in order to make the "the technical and management knowledge available to developing countries". ("Water – Solving Conflicts, Shaping the Future" and "Water – Answers to the Global Crisis" online)

It is also a very lucrative business, because the companies receive funds for investments roughly from the World Bank. And if something goes wrong, because the people are too angry or price increases are politically impossible, you can always sue the countries for the lost profits ("public aid money for the privatization of water supplies?" and "Philippines: Water supply bought at a high price").