Participants at an ongoing National Water Summit in Abuja have condemned plans by some state governments to engage private corporations in a public-private partnership in the water sector.
The participants, including representatives of the civil society, labour unions, communities, and local and international activists, agreed that partnering with private entities under any guise – privatisation or PPP – would worsen the water crisis in the country.
“Just as some persons, governments and corporations deny that climate change is caused by mostly human activities, so is the case with the water crisis,” said Nnimmo Bassey, an environmental activist and chair of the board of the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/DoEN).
“Rather than seeing the crisis as a mark of abdication of responsibility by governments, the crisis entrepreneurs see this as an opportunity to further block public access to water through privatisation,” he added.
He said privatised water is only accessible to those that could afford it while also eliminating the critical need to provide water as a right.
“Privatisation has been the death of social services and now that the institutions and services to be privatised are dwindling, the drive is now to grab the very basis of life, the privatisation of water and even whole ecosystems through land sky grabbing.”
Different Cities; Same Story
Speakers from countries like the United States and India shared their unpleasant experiences with water privatisation and their efforts to solve the crisis in their cities.
Lauren DeRusha, campaign director at Corporate Accountability, said there is an ongoing global water crisis that is “not beyond our control”.
She said the World Bank had been, arguably, one of the biggest drivers of water privatisation over the past decade, pushing governments to privatisation in spite of evidence that it had failed to provide access to water.
“One of the most egregious things about the World Bank is that it has a financial interest in the privatisation,” said Ms DeRusha.
She adds that privatisation had been reinvented as PPP to deceive the public.
Alyson Shaw, an environmental justice campaigner from Pittsburgh, said the city’s water crisis led to the community forcing elected officials to back away from water privatisation efforts.
Gina Luster, from Michigan, US, said the water crisis in Flint was caused by man-made efforts after the city officials switched their water source “to save $2 million”.
“Now we’ve had scientists come into Flint and say things like ‘Your boys may not be able to reproduce, bone cancer and things like that.'”
She said the city currently has the highest water rate in the US, ”with people owing up to $1,500 per month”.
Joe Ajaero, the president of the United Labour Congress, said the privatisation of the power sector in Nigeria should give an inkling of what to expect with water.
“I’m standing here to say that the privatisation in the power sector has failed woefully and all the things they promised, they will not fulfill and can never fulfill it,” Mr Ajaero said.
“They are now warming themselves into the National Assembly and Government Houses.”
Rising Social Inequality
The keynote speaker, Otive Igbuzor, said private sector participation in the provision of water and sanitation services had led to rising social inequality.
“It is well documented that privatisation of public services increases the utilisation of the middle class and the upper class while access to the poor and excluded will be decreased,” said Mr Igbuzor.
“It has been proven that whenever there is water privatisation, the cost of water services increases because private firms charge full costs and must pay taxes and earn a profit.”