MANILA, Philippines – In celebration of the global World Water Week, the advocacy group Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) today conducted a creative protest lambasting the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other multilateral development banks (MDBs) for continuing to espouse and encourage the privatization of potable water services and water resources.
Dressed as Na'vi tribesmen from the recent James Cameron film, Avatar, members of FDC staged a protest demonstration in front of the ADB headquarters here where an annual three-day conference on Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) is presently being held. Bearing protest signs such as “Our water is not for sale,” they spoke against the Banks' continued promotion of policies and projects that awarded control of water resources and services to corporations.

Dianne Roa, FDC advocacy coordinator, said the policy of privatization espoused by these banks has led only to the increased loss of access and control of people from developing countries over their own water services and water resources.

“While corporate profits from potable water distribution and bottled water have multiplied over the past decade, marginalized communities and water-users have effectively been deprived of their human right to water,” she said.

“If there is any lesson to be learned from our experience with privatization, it is that such a set-up effectively contradicts and cannot co-exist with our human right to water,” she added.   

“Fanatical Obsession”

The continued espousal and promotion of private sector involvement in essential services, according to FDC, stemmed from what it termed as a “fanatical obsession” on the part of the multilateral banks.

“They (multilateral banks) are obsessed with this notion that private business, corporations will save us all. More specifically, they continue to believe that the private business sector holds the key to addressing global water security issues. No amount of evidence, it seems, will convince them that privatization did not, will not work. They'll just push on with a new experiment to force it to work and when that falls short, they'll move on to a similar experiment,” said FDC.

Taking ADB as an example, FDC pointed out how the bank transitioned itself from directly promoting PSPs or Private-Sector-Participation to the more recent mechanism of Public-Private Partnerships. The transition was allegedly brought about by the increasingly strong attacks being made globally by water justice activists against water privatization. But the change is only by name, FDC stressed.

“Ultimately, it's still the same. They just invented themselves a new euphemism for privatization. But it is still all about attracting private investors, facilitating a conducive environment for investments, ensuring that regulations are in place to protect private sector investments, etc. It's still all about getting private business into the game, about making the water sector submit to the interests of private business,” said FDC.

Discredited Solution

FDC stressed that the strategy of privatizing essential services such as water for the alleged purpose of improving these services has long been discredited.
“Contrary to the promises of water privatization, for instance, water distribution under corporate control has negatively affected Metro Manila residents, especially the urban poor communities.  Water tariffs have risen exponentially by almost 1000% in just 12 years. Water lost to leakages in the West zone is higher than pre-privatization levels. And contrary to earlier promises that the privatization would free the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) and the Philippine Government from the large debt burden left behind by the Marcos administration, the MWSS has still continued to incur more debts, more recently a new loan from China,” FDC said.

The group added that by forcing the water sector to become conducive to private investment, private profit interests, instead of general public welfare, has become the dominant consideration in the drafting, planning and approval of water supply and distribution projects. Instead of addressing the requirements of communities most in need of adequate water facilities, areas with higher investment returns are being prioritized for piping projects.

According to FDC, private profit interests have also led to the indiscriminate extraction of water supply sources, for the purpose of inducing greater consumption among water consumers. The indiscriminate diversion and extraction of water resources have adversely impacted fishing and agrarian communities dependent on the availability of their water sources. Worse, such activities have destroyed entire watersheds, thereby putting at risk the water security of both present and future generations.  

Uphold the Human Right to Water

FDC also called on other civil society organizations to remain steadfast and strengthen their opposition to water privatization. Concerned organizations and civil society groups should continue to demand the fulfillment of the Human Right to Water, as confirmed by General Comment no. 15 to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

“The state is bound to fulfill its obligations,” said FDC, “and we should be vigilant in preventing present and future administrations from denying us this human right.”

Among FDC's member organizations that joined the protest demonstration were Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya (KPD), Partido Manggagawa (PM), Kumpas, and Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP).

The Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Days event (March 22-24) is organized by the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank Institute, with ADB Institute, Multilateral Investment Fund (Inter-American Development Bank), International Finance Corporation, Development Academy of the Philippines, and the Government of the Philippines through the Department of Finance.

World Water Day, annually celebrated on the 22nd of March, was instituted by the United Nations in 1992 to focus attention on the global water crisis. (30)

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