Water is an essential natural element, but around the world, it’s also an artificially endangered resource.
That would explain why the nations represented at a recent international conference on water rights in Lagos ranged from remote desert towns with hand-pumped wells to modern public utilities in European cities. Precisely because water is universally in demand, it faces boundless threats of exploitation, in countries rich and poor.
As we reported previously, Lagos has become ground zero for the global water-justice movement, as the city’s residents battle against a pending so-called Public-Private Partnership (PPP). This “development” model, promoted globally by neoliberal policymakers, lets governments contract with private companies to finance investment in water infrastructure, and then funnel them proceeds from future operating revenues.
A communiqué issued at the summit by representatives of various NGOs, including Public Services International union, TransNational Institute (TNI), and African Women Water Network, outlined principles for opposing privatization that were focused on Nigeria’s dysfunctional water management politics, but also spoke to a growing global consensus around water as both a human right and a public entitlement:
Public-Private Partnerships in the water sector are not the solution to the water challenge, but rather a new form of colonialism aggressively marketed by the World Bank and its corporate partners, that defines success in terms of profit rather than universal affordable water access.
Nigeria’s water battles tap into the same frustration that engulfed the Greek seaport city of Thessaloniki last May. Well before the landmark “NO” referendum on the troika’s austerity deal, residents held a plebiscite on a plan to fully privatize its waterworks. Local activists rallied against the agenda of the government’s privatization authority to place the management of the quasi-public municipal water utility under total private management. Though squeezed by austerity pressures, citizens initiated a grassroots campaign to run a non-binding referendum on the proposal, despite pushback from the Athens authorities, who condemned the initiative as “illegal.” Ultimately, of about 218,000 voters, 98 percent voted against the plan, sending a defiant message that, whatever the financial cost, their water was not for sale.