First and foremost water is a human right. That has been established. It has been so declared by the UN in a resolution on 28 July 2010 which explicitly stated that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realisation of all human rights. The Resolution calls upon States and international organisations to provide financial resources, help capacity-building and technology transfer to help countries, in particular developing countries, to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all.
Lately, the Lagos state government embarked on Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) in water sector despite public opposition which foretells dire implications like what has happened in Paris, Manila, India, Cochabamba, among others.
After the woeful performance of the water privatisers, cities that were once privatized have remunicipilized, taking control of their public water from corporations that are only interested in profit and not universal access.
Notwithstanding glaring evidence of abysmal failures, the Lagos state government announced early this year during Governor Ambode’s annual budget presentation that the state will secure a PPP arrangement in water sector.
His reason was that government does not have the funds required to fund the water sector hence the recourse to private sector operators.
The natural question we can put forward is: “if government does not have the resources to fund public water, is it then people already burdened with the responsibility of providing their own security, electricity, health and etc that have such resources?
To make matters worse, recently the Managing Director of Lagos State Water Corporation, Muminu Badmus in an interview on Nigeria Info said the state in conjunction with the World Bank has started installing 18,000 prepaid meters in select areas of Lagos. What this means is that those who do not have the resources to pay for water will be shut off completely. This practice negates the human right to a free gift of nature.
In most houses where water meters have been installed thus far, no single drop of water runs. So the question that follows is, what is the rush in installing meters without first of all guaranteeing constant water supply?
Pressure from civil society has compelled the state government to announce the commencement of rehabilitation of 48 mini and micro waterworks in Lagos. What the public was not informed about is that the rehabs will be done through a PPP arrangement.
Adiyan ii waterworks which provides over 70 per cent of the water used in Lagos has been penciled down for the privatisers. If the government goes ahead to cede the state’s water to corporations, millions of people will be denied the right to water.
Multinationals penciled down for the project are Veolia, Metito and Abengoa. Background checks on the three companies show that they have a track record of human rights abuses and only interested in profit judging from their antecedents in other countries.
For instance, Veolia is a French multinational corporation – one of the world’s largest water privatizers mismanaged water systems across the globe. This company was kicked out of France after the French government found out that Veolia’s water tariffs were 25-30% higher than appropriate and its lack of transparency and accountability. After Veolia was kicked out and water came back to public hands, the rates fell by 8%.
Similar tales can be linked with Metito – a company which is partly owned by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) which is itself discussing Lagos infrastructure with the Ambode administration. Metito’s record is not in the good books of water sector workers in Rwanda where the company embarked on a restructuring exercise in the water sector which led to hundreds of job losses for workers who were members of water union. If governor Ambode goes ahead to sign a deal with Metito the same situation in Kigali will replicate itself here in Lagos.
Spanish multinational – Abengoa is one of the corporations behind Bolivian privatization scheme that sparked widespread protests known as the “Cochabamba Water War.”
The World Bank pressured the Bolivian government to privatize Cochabamba’s water system by making it a condition for receiving a loan extension in the late 1990s. This privatization deal sparked protesters that captured the world’s attention and exposed the danger of turning over control of water to profit-driven corporations. There are also similar tales coming from Manila in the Philippines and Nagpur in India and they are not good tales.
Based on these and many more stories from around the world, it will be advisable that Governor Ambode shun PPPs and other privatization contracts that are peddled as success stories while in reality they bring unexpected costs for cities, raise rates for citizens, and lead to job losses. If it happened elsewhere, there is no guarantee it will not happen here. Ambode beware!
By Olatunji Buhari
Buhari is with the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria