Efforts to privatize water services throughout the world are facing determined grassroots opposition on several fronts, while other countries are preparing to sell their water supply to private companies with little resistance.
Fourteen activists in El Salvador have been arrested on charges of terrorism for demonstrating against a World Bank-backed plan to hand government water management over to private firms through local concessions for up to 50 years.
Activists argue that the state-run water service, mired as it is in corruption and bribery scandals, is the best alternative to layoffs and higher rates that would come with privatization.
They have already seen the alternative, having fought for the state to take over water services after a private firm simply stopped providing a local community with running water.
In southern Chile, activists are worried about the future of Patagonia’s waterways after the government approved a $4 billion hydroelectric dam project, backed by two corporations, that would flood wilderness and cut down protected forest land.
But that deal is nothing compared to what they anticipate from energy giant Sur Electricidad y Energia S.A., which recently filed for water rights in no fewer than 14 rivers.
Activists want the government to take a stand and consider energy alternatives to hydroelectric dams like solar and wind power.
Anti-privatization activists won a major battle in Stockton, Calif., last week, when the City Council reversed its appeal of a court ruling against a firm that had handles the city’s water services since 2003.
The judge rules that the city should have considered the poor environmental record of water giant OMI-Thames Water before approving it.
Opponents also claimed the city had failed to oversee the company’s performance since awarding it the 20-year contract.
Turkey, faced with drought and delayed construction of dams for irrigation, has decided to sell rights to up to 13 rivers, including the Tigris and the Euphrates.
Private investors will build irrigation dams and sell the water to customers for an estimated $3.1 billion profit.
The state will own the irrigation dams and the companies will own the rivers for a period of 49 years, according to the Turkish Daily News.
In South Korea, private companies in South Korea will be invited to bid for the first time on municipal water supply and wastewater treatment systems next year.
The government-run systems are currently split into 164 local municipalities, a system which officials say is inefficient and has prevented infrastructure improvements.
Social activists question whether the plan, which will raise water fees, is in the best interests of South Korea’s rural poor.
“Chile dam opponents: the looting of Patagonia has begun”
Santiago Times (Chile), July 22, 2007
“Privatizing water and the criminalization of protest”
NACLA News (New York), July 24, 2007
“$600M water deal runs dry”
Stockton Record (CA), July 18, 2007
“Rivers to be privatized as a solution to water crisis”
Turkish Daily News, August 1, 2007
“Government to privatize water supply”
The Hankyoreh (South Korea), Jul 16, 2007