Group urges FG, Lagos State government to halt World Bank-funded water schemes

The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, ERA/FoEN, has urged the Federal and Lagos State governments to halt the adoption and implementation of World Bank-funded water schemes.

In a statement issued in Lagos, Tuesday, the group said that the schemes seemed tailored to meeting Nigerians’ water needs but are actually “white elephant projects.”

ERA/FoEN said that its warning is coming on the heels of the Federal Executive Council, FEC, approval of a 16-year water master plan which will see Nigeria’s Ministry of Water Resources partnering with the Japan International Agency to implement the project in three phases.

The first phase of the water master plan would run from 2014 and 2020, while the second and third phases would run from 2021 to 2025, and 2026 to 2030 respectively. The scheme, which will be due for review by 2030, will provide the guidelines for private sector participation in the water sector under a Public Private Partnership, PPP, arrangement
to fund the sector.

“PPPs in the water sector is privatization with a softer name,” said Akinbode Oluwafemi, ERA/FoEN Director, Corporate Accountability.

“Aside from siphoning resources from the infrastructure investments that are direly needed, identified water PPPs around the world have time and again caused disaster for residents, including rate hikes, service cutoffs, poor water quality, worker layoffs, and corruption, among a long list of woes,” Mr. Oluwafemi added.

Sarah Ochekpe, the Minister of Water Resources, while arguing that the privatization master plan highlighted the inadequacy of government funding of the water sector, proposed the commercialisation of water services to increase the revenue base of the sector for the maintenance of facilities and development of new ones.

According to ERA/FoEN, water privatization is also vigorously being pursued in Lagos by the World Bank’s private arm, the International Finance Corporation, IFC, the same institution that is said to have advised the Manila government, designed its water contracts, and then invested in one of the resulting water corporations.

Mr. Oluwafemi described the master plan and World Bank-funded water schemes in Lagos as “merry-go-round” that will neither deliver on the scheme nor provide Nigerians needed water.

“We are not only disturbed by the minister description of the PPP as a model for funding water supply; we are also worried that the Federal and Lagos governments have started implementing a model that has been tested and failed in other climes,” he said.

Mr. Oluwafemi regretted that the National Assembly’s Public Hearing on the Water Sector Bill held without adequate public sensitization and critical stakeholder input, adding that, “When something as fundamental as water is concerned, we must evaluate the explicit goals of each ‘stakeholder.”‘

“For us, improving people’s access to clean water is of paramount importance. The private sector sees it in another light. For them, it is profit motives first and this is counterproductive.”

Mr. Oluwafemi urged the Nigerian government to learn from the examples of Manila, in the Philippines, where, according to him, results of a 1997 water PPP have been devastating.

“In Manila, in less than two decades, rates have increased more than 500 per cent, the workforce has been cut, and poor quality which has led to disease outbreaks and the corporations have broken their infrastructure promises,” he added.

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