The rusty pipes running through the rough neighborhoods of Lagos reveal how Nigeria’s flood of petrol dollars trickles down: as much as 80 percent of the water is estimated to be “stolen” in a system plagued by mismanagement and failed privatization schemes. But now help is coming accidentally from the World Bank—the financial institution better known for financing mass displacement of slum residents. Its investment arm is inadvertently bringing a small spark of hope to Lagos—not because of what it’s funding, but what it isn’t. Apparently, it’s finally starting to back off the agenda of corporatizing the city’s water.
While the World Bank confronts criticism for projects that have fueled rights violations across the Global South, Corporate Accountability International (CAI) has observed that the bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) recently recoiled from one keystone neoliberal development program: A nascent proposal for a water-privatization scheme for Lagos has foundered, apparently dismissed as unworkable and unprofitable.
Part of the city’s massive inequality boils down to the chronic development failures of the water system. The Lagos Water Corporation (LWC) has historically provided a fraction of local water, but has struggled to create a broad citywide system through a “public private partnership” (PPP)—provoking opposition from labor and community groups. The World Bank’s move, reported in The Guardian, actually marks the second failed attempt to broker a PPP; the LWC rejected an earlier proposal in 1999 for being unviable and costly. Since then, the LWC has tried unsuccessfully to launch PPPs with other companies.
Following April’s elections, local civil society groups have pressured the new governor of Lagos, Akinwunmi Ambode, to halt “privatisation under the failed Public Private Partnership model.”
In cities like Nagpur, India, and Manila, in the Philippines, according to CAI’s research, the IFC has helped finance pro-privatization plans, underwriting projects to facilitate investment in commercially managed water systems—supposedly to broaden access for underserved populations. But promised improvements have not materialized. Instead, advocates say, parched communities have suffered through years of infrastructure failures and scandalous rate hikes as local neighborhoods—which often never had decent services from public or private sources—were stuck paying for contaminated, diseased, or simply nonexistent waterworks.