Sunday, 21 August 2011

Stockholm Water Week 2011 has started

I have just arrived at Stockholm, where World Water Week of this year will take place from August 21st to 27th. At previous editions of this annual water conference, water activists participated in sessions to ensure that critical voices were heard. Together with Swedish groups the sponsorship of the event by NestlĂ© (the world’s largest bottled water company) was challenged. Also, the neoliberal reforms that undermine the city's world-class public utility Stockholm Vatten were put in the spotlight.

At the railway station at the airport, a gentleman talked to me and asked if I would attend the water week. He is from Zambia and works for African Development Bank’s regional office in Tunisia. We started to chat and it turned into a very interesting conversation. He came to Stockholm to speak about financing and regulatory framework for the water sector in Zambia. He soon turned out to have a very critical view of private sector water management in Africa, mentioning the example of Zambia, where the French transnational Saur had a management contract in Copperbelt province from 2001- 2006. The contract was not renewed because it was clear that the private operator could not perform better than regional public water authority. He also told me a story from Kampala, the capital city of Uganda. The German financial cooperation KfW financed to help a private sector company takeover a state-run utility and the concession contract with French company Suez, between 2002 to 2004 (OSUL - Ondeo Services Uganda Limited). But the contract was not renewed and the National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) regained control. There are many cases of private contracts did not renew in African cities and I decided we shouldad these to our website on remunicipalisation:

Veolia Environment, by the way, is running water services in Tunisia, where the AfDB official is based. While service performance is fairly good, the contract is completely secretive. This coincidental meeting in the train inspired me to use the Stockholm days to find potential new strategic allies, also among institutions like the development banks.

Tomorrow, I will attend the seminar on ‘Benchmarking Governance of Private and Public Utilities in Urban Settings with a Corruption Angle’ and a side event on ‘Implementing the Right to Water: through the 1% Solidarity Levy and UNDP GoAL WASH’.