Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 11, 2004
Turn on the global water taps
CCODP urges Canadians to speak out against companies charging for water
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
While North Americans take water for granted, millions of people in the Third World lack access to this vital element.
That's because the profit-making corporations that control the water systems of many developing countries have turned water into a commodity that the poor cannot afford, says Bob Schmidt, Alberta animator for the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.
He places the blame for this situation squarely on the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which give loans to poor countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America on condition they turn over management of water supplies to multinational water corporations.
As part of its three-year campaign on water, CCODP is urging Canadians to pressure the World Bank to stop placing these conditions on their loans. People can get involved in this campaign by signing an action card that the organization has produced.
The World Bank discourages governments from subsidizing the consumption of water and demands consumers assume responsibility for all the costs of water services.
This has led to sharp increases in the cost of water that the poor simply cannot afford to pay, noted Schmidt, who introduced the 2004 CCODP's fall action campaign at an Oct. 2 workshop at St. Thomas More Church. He says millions of poor people find the tap turned off because they cannot pay their water bill. In desperation, they turn to unsafe water resources.
In 2001, the government of Ghana raised its water prices by 95 per cent to comply with the conditions of a badly needed World Bank loan. That same year, more than 70 per cent of Ghana's health clinic visits were a result of water-borne diseases.
Recently water prices in Ghana went up 200 per cent, making it impossible for poor people to pay their water bills. "From $7 a month it went up to $20 a month and they make about $30 a month," Schmidt lamented. "People can't afford to pay their water bill but water is still necessary for life so they are taking it from wherever they can and they are getting sick."
In southern Africa there are currently 300,000 cases of cholera as a result of people drinking unsafe water, Schmidt said.
In 2002, a first step was taken to alleviate the water problem in the Third World when the United Nations Human Rights Commission and then the UN Committee on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights declared access to water a basic human right alongside the right to food and shelter.
And in the fall of 2003 the CCODP and its global partners in the Third World launched their three-year awareness campaign about the value of water and why access to it is a treasured human right.
Water: Life Before Profits is the overall theme of the campaign, which challenges the right of corporations to privatize and control water, a basic element essential for life.
During the first year, the CCODP educated Catholics on the effects of the privatization of water delivery on the poor and asked Canadians to sign a four-point declaration that declared water a basic human right. Almost 195,000 Canadians signed the declaration, which may be used to pressure the Canadian government to change its stance on water. Canada has twice voted against recognizing water as a human right at the United Nations.
The CCODP fall action campaign for 2004 takes aim at the way in which the World Bank pressures countries to privatize their water systems.
The World Bank lends about $2 billion annually for water services in developing countries - a three-fold increase over the 2002 lending level.
However, these loans often require countries to allow multinational corporations to control municipal water services and that users pay the full cost of water services.
CCODP says countries should not sacrifice essential public water services to qualify for desperately needed loans. It wants Canadians to sign its action card demanding change to the loan system. The action card is directed to the Canadian government, which has one representative on the World Bank board.
Addressed to the minister of finance, the card urges the government to demand that the World Bank stop placing conditions on their loans, to work to strengthen the role of the public sector in delivering and managing water services, to support citizens' groups in setting water policies and to ensure access to clean, affordable water for the world's poor.
"From $7 a month it went up to $20 a month and they make about $30 a month,"
- Bob Schmidt
Canadians can also help by donating to CCODP, which in the spring holds its Share Lent Campaign to fund development projects in the developing world, Schmidt said. The Third World poor need the money to fund alternative water supplies and to fight the privatization of their water systems.
The World Bank estimates that up to $870 billion will be needed over the next 12 years to improve access for safe water and sanitation in developing countries. In the absence of international direct funding to improve water access in poor countries, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are demanding that countries privatize water supplies, hoping that the private sector will supply the funds that rich nations refuse to supply.
CCODP officials disagree, saying that wherever water supplies have been privatized, the poor are suffering, because the main goal of the water companies is to make a profit.
The revenues of the 10 largest multinational water companies in 2001 were US$30 billion. Water contracts are usually granted for 15 to 30 years, giving a guaranteed income to giant corporations.
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