Monday, 20 August 2007

Some reflections

The week spent at World Water Week has left me with a variety of conflicting feelings. Inspired and humbled by working alongside such committed and interesting people in the fight for an equitable and just allocation of water and sanitation: but, angry by the pursuit still, of market solutions to their provision for those without. Despite the evidence that the investment required to address the lack of clean water was not forthcoming from the private sector, the prescriptions promoted in Stockholm by the vast majority were still to involve the private sector. It really does beg the question which bit of the fact; the private sector won’t invest in providing water for the poorest people in the world, isn’t yet understood?!

The European Union Water Initiative (EUWI) mid-term review of its work in Africa, offered a window into this outlook. Their presentation of their Forward Strategy and Work Plan expressed disappointment at the lack of private finance for the EUWI projects in Africa. Nevertheless, they still recommended that they would redouble their efforts to involve the private sector. Doh! It is now unequivocal, their own and other evidence shows it, the private sector simply won’t invest without the guarantee of profit: and the poorest communities do not offer that guarantee.

Of course, if visiting World Water Week from the wider galaxy you would get the impression that the proponents of private solutions have the interests of the all the world’s poor as their number one priority. And, that their policies are the fail safe way of achieving the MDG’s. If the Martian’s stayed long enough to see and hear the evidence beyond the warm words written by the PR men they would soon see that their private intentions and actions more often than not don’t correspond with their public utterances. Kevin Wall, of CSIR in South Africa, sees water provision in South Africa and elsewhere as an opportunity for local entrepreneurs to open franchises – with all the detrimental implications that that idea brings to the principle of cross-subsidisation. He suggests water franchisees as offering similar opportunities to those like Macdonalds franchisees – no it was no (sick) joke, he really did intimate this!

Listening to asset managers speak at the founders business seminar on Wednesday, led me to question just who actually are the extra-terrestrials? At this meeting, where all were seemingly surrounded by likeminded self-interested souls, their guard came down and their mindset was revealed. They said things like “water is a tremendous business opportunity – because there is no substitute to water”; or, when one was asked what they had learned from this week and answered, “money – I really didn’t realise just how much money there is in water”; or “water systems in the western world are ready for private takeover”. All these alone would illustrate to any would-be visitors from the cosmos that pro-poor speeches are simply rhetoric with little substance.

In relation to the theme of sustainability – the major plank of the week – the conference really sent out the wrong message with the recruitment of Nestle as the main sponsor. This was re-enforced during the synthesis panel on Friday. One of Nestles’ PR team attended – presumably this was part of the package. SIWI asked a question to him on consumption patterns and whether they were supply or demand driven and if it was a question of supply would they alter their corporate strategy in the name of sustainability; even if it ate into profits? The inadequacy of his response and the eventual assertion – after being pressed - that it was demand driven was without any analysis or evidence, and what’s more the supposedly slick PR man knew it himself. Hence his reluctance to say so! While it was good SIWI asked the question it was too little too late: having them in the first place was plain wrong.

One final point on pricing: there was much said by business on it during the week. They regularly spoke of how agriculture were the main users and how it was literally free for them to waste water, even some with links to agriculture said this. Their argument was that only pricing could control use. Indeed some control and regulation of over-use is required – this is undoubtedly an area for discussion and debate. However we should note that they offered only full scale market solutions with no thought on how a pricing system would impact the poor. Indeed it had the feel of a solution that realised water depletion was an issue and that they wanted to use pricing as a means to seize control of supplies - knowing full well that only they had the means to purchase if fully priced.

So often this week, it was said that the finance was there, but there was just not the projects to invest in. This view is puzzling for us mere mortals on earth let alone anyone else. For what greater project can there be to provide water to those 1.4 billion without clean water and those 2.5 billion without sanitation? This is the one and only project: but, for the private sector there is no incentive in striving to achieve the addressing this modern day shame. For us not inclined to promote market solutions, the solution, while not simple, is clear. Focus and redouble our efforts, not to involve the private sector, but to organise and finance world-wide those communities and public utilities that have local expertise and knowledge with social solidarity at heart and a commitment to solve the current, scandalous state of affairs where so many do without.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Stockholm Water: An view from Scotland

As someone who had read, researched and cited Stockholm as a company that we in the UK could learn from and aspire towards I was saddened, though not surprised, to hear of the current changes and unbundling of the different services it provides. This tactic of unbundling is currently en-vogue amongst the private companies. In Scotland for instance the non-domestic sector has been unbundled from the domestic sector and in England there is much talk that they will also follow this path. At the same time the trans-national private sector are looking to re-configure themselves by gaining contracts and short-term leases and stakes in risk free, efficient companies with sound up to date infrastructure and guaranteed profits from an affluent customer base. Companies just like Stockholm Vatten in fact.

We should be clear these changes in Stockholm can only be based on fundamentalist free-market ideology. The changes will not improve the service that Stockhom Vatten currently provides. In fact there is a huge body of evidence from elsewhere in the world that the opposite is likely to happen. It will result in rising costs for the users, huge profits for the companies and exploitation of the workers. What’s more any notion of social solidarity will be lost. As we have seen with the abandonment of its international service and the cuts to its public education resource.

Hearing both the PM of Sweden and the Deputy Mayor of Stockholm on Monday it helped me understand the political context from where this emphasis on providing only core services is coming. The Deputy Mayor, Michael Sorderlund, offered an especially shockingly misguided and blinkered analysis. Amongst other things he said, “water is an everyday commodity to be sold to consumers” – yes ok but what about those who cant afford it; “property is not a threat – it is the key to environmental solutions!” – so consumption and the drive for economic growth is nothing to with the advent of climate change and water depletion!; and, that “it was economic growth that led to the improvements in water provision in Stockholm over the last century”. Obviously suffering from amnesia or perhaps a heavy night on Sunday he also failed to mention how progressive taxation and pricing, the toil of the workers and that notions of collectivism – not individualism - and social solidarity led to a sound and clean water services – both in Stockholm and indeed all over the world.

The paradox of Stockholm Water is that this ideology is based on an assumption that the market is always best and most effective way to provide a service. But Water Privatisation’s elsewhere tells us that this prevailing wisdom cannot be further from the truth. Globally, we have seen how privatisation cannot simultaneously ensure low costs, an equal allocation for all, environmental protection and adequate investment whilst still providing a dividend for its shareholders. Something has got to give: and you can be sure it’s not going to be the dividend.

Stockhom Vatten is clearly in peril. If privatised or even simply commercialised there will be serious consequences and implications for the people of Stockholm. There will also be implications for people elsewhere in Sweden for once they get Stockholm they will spread their tentacles further. As such I hope that our Swedish friends can mobilise and organise to fight these illogical and nonsensical changes. It’s important both for the users of water in Sweden and in the wider battle for community and collectivism against the forces of self-interest and individualism.

Friday, 17 August 2007

Water Justice Message Delivered at World Water Week 2007

Well it has been a phenomenal week for our movement...

Not least of all because it confirms a quote Olivier sent me just before I headed over to Stockholm.... ' Never doubt what a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that has. Margaret Mead.

Was it as profound as that? For me it was.

I am now on my way home after this brilliant week of working in Stockholm with this small, but committed, group of water activists. During the week we shook up the otherwise staid world of the global water mafia. We won over many conference members with well reasoned arguments, materials and even some direct action. We placed articles in all major Swedish media. We welcomed new members into the water justice movement and solidified old allegiances.

The Swedish activists we worked with received an injection of energy into their efforts to protect Stockholm Vatten (Water) from privatisation - this public ulility is one of the world's most efficient water companies, yet this is no protection from ideology.

It is impossible to write down all the initiatives of the week, but here are some that come to mind...

Direct action protest against Nestle's sponsorship of the World Water Forum. Nestle is the world's largest bottled water company and the world's largest food company. During the week they reported first half of the year profits of over 4 Billion USD. We sent our message outside an official event Nestle held at the WWW using placards and leaflets as well as chants and coins in water bottles symbolizing profit from water.

Public event focused on supporting protection of Stockholm Vatten - Stockholm's public water company and a shining example of good public management delivering quality water at an affordable rate. Wonderful presentations and informed debate from the floor made this an inspiring event even though the temperature of the room resembled that of a sauna!

Within hours leaflets, banners and other materials were collectively written and printed. Plans were hatched and tasks divided. With around a dozen activists working together we were far outnumbered by the neo-liberal deal-makers, but everyday there was a new story about our work in the media and visible signs of our engagement inside the forum.

And the most amazing thing of all is that these plans and work all came together within two weeks of the beginning of the event! Partially because this was the height of the Swedish holiday season, but also because this was our first engagement at the forum and people were going separately for differing reasons.

This is only a small sample of all the good work that was done. Next year we will need to build on this success. I am convinced that this meeting is the most dangerous gathering for the realization of water as a human right. There are well-meaning academics and technical people at the event trying to present their research but they are dwarfed by the donor countries, private water companies, UN agencies and International Finance Institutions making back room deals and plotting for their next water grab. It was far, far, worse than I could have imagined. There were almost as many closed, by-invitation-only, meetings as open sessions.

All for now, below is a note with a sample of some links which one of our Swedish friends from ATTAC compiled.

Anil Naidoo
Blue Planet Project


Our efforts to make people look with critical eyes at the WWW culminated yesterday when the public meeting at ABF-huset moved the focus to the threat against Stockholm Water coming from the new political majority in Stockholm.

Stockholm Water has been kind of a positive international icon among public water utilites. Both the international acitvists, the Swedish aciivists and the reopresenttavis from Swdish Trade Union of the Municipality workers agreed that now is the time to mobilize against the sneak privatization.

The union's paper Kommunalarbetaren is topping on the web with a report from our meeting, written by Ann Christin Sjölander whoi has also written the book "The water business : corporations versus people" Look at "Don't Sell out our Water!"!"

The same day Aftonbladet published a big op-ed written by Anil Naidoo, Blue Planet Network and me titled Vatten = Politik. Diskussionen får inte tas över av teknokrater och företagsledare.

This op-ed is also on the web in an English version

The Editors op-ed in the magazine ETC (paper version) is written on the same theme by me."Don't touch our water!"

The Nestlé acton on Wednesday (at the same time critzising the organizers behind WWW) was also a success.Look at Protest mot Nestlés sponsring av Världsvattenveckan

Pictures and some commentaries are also on:

Mai Simonsen, FIVAS, Norge
Vattenaktivisternas blogg
Anericas blogg

Tommy Kane's presentation at the ABF-meeting brought "A warning from England and Scotland" Tommy underlined that the commercialization of the scottish activities to distribute water and treat waste water in many ways is like what is happening in Sweden just now. It is impossible for the politicians to just sell out the plants - therefore they advance step by step in a more subtile way. We will later send out Tommy's Powerpoint presentation. I also recommend his reports from inside the WWW published on the blog

Tommy Kane: Solidarity
Tommy Kane: Behind Closed Doors

"Water is a Human Right" - a column in Göteborgs-Posten, written by Lars Henriksson, a metal worker and a member of Attac "There is Something Rotten in the People's House" By Lasse Karlsson at Attac's blog.
"Knowledge is Already Availabe" A short commentary in Dagen
Sweden denies visas to Nigerians for the water week" Yelah on the web
Future Occurencies at the Waterfront Helsingborgs Dagblad A comment to Fredrik Reinfeldt's speech

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Op-ed criticising World Water Week published in Aftonbladet today

The Swedish daily newspaper Aftonbladet today published an op-ed written by Anil Naidoo (Blue Planet Project) and Lasse Karlsson (ATTAC Sweden). In the op-ed, titled "Vatten = politik" (Water = politics), Naidoo and Karlsson criticise the "dangerous and short-sighted vision of water" being promoted during World Water Week.

Follows the English version of the op-ed:

Water = politics

Water is not a product like any other. Water is a human right and a common responsibility, Water is a matter of life and death for billions of people.

It is therefore dangerous when World Water Week in Stockholm is dominated by the global private water industry; write Anil Naidoo and Lasse Karlsson.

This week the water world once more descends on Sweden. For the 17th year the World Water Week will be held in Stockholm. Dubbed, “Where the Water World Meets”, this event is increasingly looking like a venue where the corporate water world meets. This is why, this year, a group of international water activists, aligned with the Reclaiming Public Water Network will also be coming to Stockholm.

For years Stockholm has been seen as a technocratic initiative, but as the event has become increasingly politicized, activists feel it is critical that a diversity of voices be heard at this important event. We will also be forging new alliances with Swedish activists and holding a public event to allow broader inputs into this important issue.

Water is a life and death issue for billions living in water-stressed parts of the world. These people are the most marginalized and un-represented, both in their own countries and globally. Attempts must be made to ensure that their voices are heard and understood by the decision-makers and we urge the organizers of the WWW to do more to have these voices represented.

Water must be treated in a different way than the goods that we buy and sell.

Our message to the organizers of this event, Stockholm International Water Institute, is simple. Any discussions and decisions without inputs by those most affected will result in ‘solutions’ which risk doing more harm than good. The initiative for World Water Week was first taken by Stockholm Water Company, which is publicly run but now threatened by outsourcing and privatization promoted by the new political majority in Stockholm. There is however little discussion during World Water Week about how to strengthen and improve the public water systems which represent 95% of water systems around the world. Instead the WWW has fallen into the trap of believing that the only future for water is a private, market-based future. This is a dangerous and short-sighted vision of water which the social movements we work with around the world are vigorously opposing.

One problem is that World Water Week is such an exclusive event. The costs are prohibitive, even for Northern activists to join.

The costs for one activist are well over 10,000 SEK (half as conference fees). And this is without including flights. This hardly embodies a place that the whole water world can afford to meet when the conference fees alone represent a whole years wages for billions who are most affected by the global water crisis.

The WWW has become a place where monumental decisions are being made and where the global deals on water are being struck, yet the door is closed to all but the most basic of inputs by those who are most affected. These same doors swing wide open, however, for those who have the money to participate. Among this year’s lead sponsors is Nestle, one of the largest water-bottling organizations, responsible for massive water-takings around the world and the subsequent pollution created by this industry. For a cost of 300,000 SEK, Nestle is offered, in the WWW’s own publications, that a sponsor can “…raise your corporate sustainability profile, meet the increasingly sophisticated demands of your customers, expand into new markets, and make new contacts.”

Customers, markets, corporate sustainability profile… these are dangerous words when we are discussing something as fundamental as water. We believe water is a human right and a public trust. Water must be treated differently than the commodities we buy, sell and trade in this globalized world. If we do not address water differently, with respect and even with reverence, the suffering will continue and increase.

This is why we cannot leave the debate in the hands of technocrats and corporations. Future generations, nature and all who suffer today from lack of access to clean water must be represented before we can hope to have sustainable solutions to this crisis.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Protest action during Nestlé seminar

A group of international water activists today protested against the creeping corporate takeover of World Water Week (WWW), exemplified by the role of Nestlé, the main sponsor of this year's conference. The action took place during a seminar that was convened by Nestlé and featured Nestlé speakers. Read the text that was distributed to WWW participants during the action.

Water for Life
- Not for Profit

Save the World Water Week from the grip of Corporate Domination

For 17 years the respected World Water Week has provided water researchers and policy-makers with a forum
for dialogue and debate.

Now, the World Water Week is losing legitimacy as an open space for debate and discussion as the corporate water takers have the forum in t
heir sights.

Why is Nestlé here?

Look around, where is the diversity of voices?

Should Corporate voices be the loudest voices here?

Save the World Water Week!

Water is a Human Right

Open Up Stockholm Water Week

In its 17 year history, the World Water Week (WWW), founded by the local public water utility, has played an important role gathering water experts for scientific and technical discussions. National and multilateral donors are sending higher profile delegations. Deals are being struck in side meetings, programmes and policies set and agreed. As a result, Stockholm Water Week has attracted massive attention from corporate lobby groups and think tanks like the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), World Economic Forum (WEF), Global Water Partnership (GWP), World Water Council, Aquafed, etc. In fact, WWW has become increasingly dominated by the private water industry. This politicization and domination by powerful private water interests risks the WWW losing its legitimacy as an open space for debate and discussion.

For the WWW to remain a legitimate forum for global water policy debate, it must stop the creeping corporate take-over and take serious steps to become more inclusive. Southern water sector and civil society representatives are disastrously under-represented, also due to the excessive entrance fees and the absence of funding to cover travel and lodging for those who cannot afford it.

A case in point is that this year Nestlé is the main sponsor of the Water Week. The world’s largest bottled water company by annual sales, Nestlé is playing a part in the privatization of public water sources around the globe. Nestlé continues exploiting new sources of water for their ever growing list of bottled water brands. When did Nestlé ever run a water utility? How can Nestlé help us achieve the MDGs? Bottled water is totally irrelevant to the needs of the poor. Bottled water damages the environment, pollutes the air, and creates huge amounts of plastic waste. Bottled water commodifies drinking water. Nestlé is an unwelcome participant in the struggle for water and sanitation for all.

WWW needs to make space for more of the actors involved in the water sector, not just the same elite club of international water jet-setters who spend their lives in these meetings. Ultimately, this means that governments should assume the responsibility for funding the WWW, allowing it to be clear of the corporate sponsors.

Around the world people have a dream of a better world and a better society where water is a human right and not something they can buy if they afford it. Public Water Operators, workers, activists are important actors in the public-public-partnership to make clean water available for all.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007


Attending World Water Week for the first time is to begin with a rather bewildering experience. Getting to know who is who and what’s what really does requires keeping your eyes and ears well and truly open, asking a multitude of (often simple and silly!) questions and checking name badges wherever and whenever you can. A key tenet to getting to grips with the dominant policy agenda, scope and objectives of any such conference is to know who the attendees and sponsors are, to attend as many meetings as possible and to check out the subject areas and themes of meetings. Using all of the above has helped me quickly familiarise myself with the worrying corporate direction and programme of the Stockholm Water Week

But, getting up to speed with this hectic environment is helped primarily by having friends here - both the more experienced and inexperienced and those who you have known from before and those you haven’t. The help and solidarity amongst the activists here has manifested itself into an infectious enthusiasm and energy. This enthusiasm is helped by the knowledge of course that we have right and evidence on our side. Right in that the world’s resources ‘belong to us all yet also belong to no-one’. That liberalisation and property rights of the worlds natural resources do not, and have not, resulted in the invisible hand of the market ensuring that people receive their fair share. That market solutions have in no way made any impression on the MDG targets. That multitudes of people are still scandalously dying because of inaction, lack of political will and, frankly, not giving a shit about this hourly and daily genocide. We are though coming up with positive alternatives. For instance, that a more concerted and co-ordinated approach utilising all available skills and talents across the world – using a well financed and resourced PUPS/WOPS scheme – and based on solidarity and social progress, rather than profit, is a good place to start. We await to hear if this message is being heard.

Behind Closed Doors!

Travelling on the train from Gothenburg I planned my diary and the meetings I wished to attend, assuming, naively as it turns out, that all meetings would be open to me should I want to go. Wrong! There are just as many closed and exclusive meetings as there are open. This has possibly something to do with the evolution of the World Water Week (WWW). From its early beginnings of being a technical conference looking for scientific solutions to water problems and issues until today where the Stockholm WWW has patently changed to be a more holistic affair, covering and discussing all areas of water. These Include governance and politics, financing, the environment - from climate change to water scarcity, discussions regarding particular georaphical areas and basins in diverse regions - from the Amazon to the Middle East, water’s importance to economic growth, the need for water to tackle poverty and of course science and technical innovation and much more.

One common theme is clearly emerging: the overarching worldview that sees the market and private sector and commodification of water as being the most effective and likely provider of solutions to water problems. Given the list of sponsors this is hardly surprising; it is indeed a rogue’s gallery. Nestle (the main sponsor), the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) – representing over 200 of the biggest companies in the world from Coca Cola to Suez and from Shell to Unilever - the World Economic Forum and the European Water Partnership are all hosting meetings. This corporate dominance and the dangers of the WWW, and indeed the wider world generally, taking this direction is something that we intend to highlight over the coming days.

We are well aware that any voices that differ are likely to be denounced as political dinosaurs with no understanding of the real world - yes Orwell is once again turning in his final resting place. This was illustrated during the High Level Panel Debate on Climate Change, Water and Vulnerability on Monday 13th. Apparently, one of the panel members, Prof Jorg Imberger of the University of Western Australia, dared have the temerity to speak of a more equal redistribution of resources and blamed climate change on, amongst other things, over-consumption. During the opening up to the floor for questions he was quickly labelled an old school Marxist and of having no understanding of economic theory! Though to be fair he also did receive a fair bit of applause, indicating that even within the narrow parameters of WWWW there is support for a fairer set of policies that dispute the dominant discourse here. Though, as one colleague said it was so unusual to here this alternative point of view that perhaps he got this response for being ‘refreshingly provocative’, rather than people necessarily agreeing with him.

Despite the built in corporate majority the small cadre of committed international and local activists in Stockholm are planning to make our voices heard in various ways. Having many of the meetings held behind closed doors has not helped in terms of having a say. These are obviously so important that the possibility of dissent is not even countenanced. The EUWI, the World Water Council, the WBCSD and the Water Integrity Network (WIN) are amongst those who are hosting closed door meetings. We can only wonder what’s being discussed; maybe there is a minute of them somewhere? Yes, and the proverbial animal of pork might take to the skies. One thing is for sure its not what they are going to have for dinner or their holiday plans that they are discussing.

It should be said that it is a development that has shown itself as extremely contradictory. Not least In the context of the public declarations by the WWC at the World Water Forum of having multi-stakeholder contributions and open input and debate during the planning for, and at, the next WWF in Istanbul in 2009; however diverse that input may be. The duplicity of their position is perhaps best summed up by the meeting to be held by WIN on Wednesday 15th when they are having a closed doors Donors meeting alongside their parent organisation: Transparency International. Yes when it comes to transparency, they obviously practice what they preach!

Stockholm Water Company threatened by ideology-driven cuts and outsourcing plans

By Jan-Erik Gustafsson

In December 2006 the new liberal-conservative majority of the Stockholm City Council and the Stockholm Water Company Board announced a set of new, fundamentalist market-oriented policies for the water and sanitation provision (the VA-service) in
Stockholm. The Stockholm Water Company is the largest public VA-service in Sweden. It is internationally well-known for its holistic and comprehensive perspectives. It serves most inhabitants and companies in the greater Stockholm area, and has a turnover of some 1,1 billion SEK for a billed volume of more than 100 million cubic meters per year. The water tariff is among the lowest in Sweden.

The Stockholm Water Company was one of the main initiators and sponsor of the annual Stockholm Water Symposium, which has taken place since 1991. Throughout the years a great number of water professionals have been introduced to the good competence and performance of the company. In practice, the Stockholm Water Company is a good example of applying the vision and principles of integrated water resources management (IWRM), advocated by the Stockholm Water Symposium.

Now this has to change, according to the new political majority. After a Board meeting in March 2007 the Stockholm Water Company should only deal with the “core business”. According to the politically responsible minister of the City Council, Ulla Hamilton, the company has been a “milking cow” for various projects, and the cost of the administration of some 200 million SEK is too high

From 1st of April onwards, the Board converted the company into a corporate structure, without presenting any proper impacts analysis. The new mother company, the Stockholm Water Company AB will be a part of the Stockholm City Infrastructure Company (Stockholm Stadshus AB). The mother company will be in charge of two new subsidiaries, taking care of the core business: the Stockholm Water VA AB with the daily responsibility of provision and maintenance of the VA-service and networks, and the Stockholm Water Development AB taking care of side-business activities like the biogas production.

In addition, two non-core business companies have been set up: the Stockholm Water Construction Project AB and the Stockholm Water Laboratory Service AB. The Board has given directive that these two transitory companies should be prepared for out-sourcing. Already from the 1 July the small-scale Henriksdal Waterfront City’s research-oriented sewage treatment work has been out-sourced.

The opposition parties in the Stockholm Water Company (the social democrats, the green party and the left party) have all objected to these changes. In a common statement they write; “The rationale of the proposed changes is still kept in darkness but is supposed to be of ideological, emotional and old-fashioned neo-liberal character”. They criticize the reduction of the maintenance of the networks budget for 2007 by 100 million SEK, from a safety and environmental point of view. Furthermore, they question the reduction of the company’s own staff and loss of competences. The qualified staff has been a key factor for the renovation and maintenance of the network systems, therefor competence reduction implies “unnecessary risk and creating unnecessary dependencies to external consulting companies on a market that is not adopted to such a big purchaser” as the Stockholm Water VA AB. They conclude by saying that the inhabitants of Stockholm will be exposed to unacceptable risks, which threaten “to achieve the goals to deliver good and safe water or handling the wastewater in a responsible way, so that the environment will be protected in a long-term perspective”.

The various trade union representatives in the Board have protested against the lay off of more the 108 staff of the company as a first step of the redundancy policy. Furthermore they consider that the new policies will not deliver any long-term savings for the VA consumers, adding that the consumers will face deteriorated service in a 5 – 10 years perspective.

Embarrassing criticism has come from five professors from the reputed John Hopkins University, among them the first Stockholm Water price winner, David W. Schindler. In a letter to Ulla Hamilton they write that the downscaling of the Stockholm Water Company “is unwise and it will undermine the outstanding efforts to improve the water quality around your city”, and they are especially worried about the downgrading of the environmental control. In a response letter Hamilton claims that the professor’s worries are unjustified, and that the environmental control will continue.

The Stockholm inhabitants have expressed in various consumer polls that they would refrain from the possibility of paying a lower water tariff if it implies risk for less quality or affects the environment. Both private consumers and companies appreciate safety, competence and good customer service, and not lowering the water tariff as advocated by the new political majority.

The CEO Roger Bergström of Swedish VA-service umbrella organisation, the Swedish Water AB, considers that the development in Stockholm goes in the wrong direction. “It is a question of a downgrading spiral of the whole Swedish VA-service sector. As a matter of fact the good international reputation is in danger,” he says.

The new policy favours short-sighted and restrained “core businesses” activities at the detriment of a comprehensive sustainable development of the future the Swedish VA-service and the environment. After the reconstruction of the Stockholm Water Company, the idea is to only work with “demand-driven maintenance”, i.e. to repair when facilities and networks break, but not work with long-term preventive maintenance, development research, environmental protection, public and international information activities. Most of these are claimed to be outside of the “core business”.

The editor of the Swedish water magazine Cirkulation, Erik Winnfors, has understood the link to the Stockholm Water Company, when he writes “The drastic economic cuts in the budgets of the Stockholm Water Company implies an important mutilation of resources for Swedish water conservation. The company will lose influence…The Stockholm Water will inexorably be stripped off all but the technical operation of the VA-service…In a conspicuous way the Stockholm Water Company will now be prepared for an eventual operation contract. The French water giant Veolia must rub its hands for such a good cake.”

A longer version of this article if available at

Monday, 13 August 2007

Public-public partnership for improving water supply in Huancayo, Peru

Luis Mario Padron of Aguas Bonaerenses (the public water utility of the province of Buenos Aires, Argentina) is in Stockholm this week to present the new public-public partnership between his company and the water utility of the Peruvian city of Huancayo. In an interview published on, Luis Padron explains the origins and goals of the project, an inspiring example of non-profit cooperation between public utilities in the South. Follows a shortened version of the interview:

What is the current state of drinking and wastewater services in Huancayo?

SEDAM Huancayo currently provides around 225,000 inhabitants in 6 province districts with water services, with around 62 % coverage for drinking water and 57% for wastewater. The leakage rate is 50%, because around 40% of the pipes in the network are over 50 years old. The service is not continuous, depending on the community water flows between 6 and 18 hours per day, as a result of insufficient production and storage capacity. The tariffs collected from the users do not cover the utility's total costs of operation and maintenance. On the other hand, parts of the operational expenses are unnecessarily high, for instance due to inefficient use of electricity and chemical products, as well as questionable expenses made by the utility's board.

What are the goals of the public-public partnership?

We hope that SEDAM can achieve operative autonomy, including efficient management, strong technical performance and financial health. The tariff structure might become more social so the poorest households can afford it, while still raising enough revenue to cover the utility's operation and performance costs, without external subsidies.

ABSA hopes to successfully design the projects agreed upon in order to improve the production, storage and treatment capacity of the utility. Thereby, ABSA gains valuable experience that can be used in similar areas in Argentina where we are also involved in technical cooperation. The experience can also prove useful in our own utility in the province of Buenos Aires.

What are the next steps in the public-public partnership?

We have worked with the Peruvian counterparts on an integral diagnosis. From this diagnosis, we expect to agree on a list of actions to improve the management, reduce leakage levels, increase water treatment and storage capacity, etc. These actions will be developed through specific projects and agreements over the next three years.

The Peruvians will look for the funding to implement all the renewal and expansion works, from national and international funding sources. In order to ensure that the provincial government backs the reforms of SEDAM, pressure from the community is key. We are therefore trying to interact closely with the different stakeholders, including SEDAM, the local water workers' union SUTAPAH, the university, local institutions, business organisations, community organisations, etc.

How did the cooperation start and who is involved?

Over the last few years, citizens and workers have struggled to stop the proposed privatisation of Huancayo's water utility. During this process, the local water workers' union SUTAPAH and the Peruvian federation of water unions FENTAP built strong links with SOSBA (the water workers union of Buenos Aires). We worked together to develop an alternative to the privatisation plan, a proposal for public utility reform through a public-public partnership; this happened with the support of Public Services International.

After the plans for privatisation in Huancayo were shelved, efforts to develop progressive public water reforms instead intensified. An agreement was first reached between the trade unions SUTAPAH and SOSBA, followed by an agreement between the utilities SEDAM and ABSA. The final step was to ensure agreement on the level of the provincial governments of Huancayo and Buenos Aires. This third level is crucial to ensure that everyone involved assists with implementing the agreement.

Getting the workers involved in the management of a public utility helps to ensure permanent planning and care. Participation by the users and civil society helps guarantee an appropriate administration.

What have been the main obstacles so far? What are the threats to the success of the public-public partnership?

Clearly, reaching agreement on the political level was the toughest part, also because politicians often are more accountable to their own interests than the public interest. Their time scale is the four years election term, whereas we are talking of services that must be secured over generations. Building and consolidating pressure from the communities is crucial to hold politicians accountable.

What are the main differences between public-public partnerships such as the one between Buenos Aires and Huancayo and public-private partnerships?

Profits. Private involvement through public-private partnerships means that resources escape local service delivery. This means that these resources will not be available for extending the network, improving the quality of the service, etc. Also, external private operators have no real commitment to the local utility: these companies will leave when they want. In our public-public partnership with its three-level institutional agreement, governments do not leave but remain responsible for the utility.

Read the full version of the interview

Saturday, 11 August 2007

On the Road to Stockholm

Global water activists are very good at challenging power and proposing positive solutions.

Unfortunately, there are no lack of powerful corporations, international financial institutions and governments to challenge. There is also a desperate need for sustainable, just, solutions to the global water crisis.

This week a small group of us are heading to the 17th World Water Week in Stockholm. Long thought of as a 'technocratic' event, which did not deserve the same attention as the more infamous World Water Forum, attitudes are changing towards the World Water Week. This is because the event has become increasingly political. Deals are made in the backrooms and behind closed doors which have a profound impact. One player linked in with the corporate side said that hardly anyone goes to the actual sessions, the real work is done in the side meetings.

This is a very dangerous development and I have come to believe that we continue to ignore what happens at the World Water Week at our peril. Activists have done a phenomenol job of challenging the World Water Forum, to the extent that governments are increasingly distancing themselves from the forum and it is evolving into little more than a global water trade fair. Still a threat and a vehicle for privatisation and water commodification, and still needing to be challenged but the once-hidden agenda is now firmly exposed. No one can ignore the 40,000 people who marched against the WWF last year in Mexico City.

Now it is apparent that those using the World Water Week to advance a corporate, privatised water agenda also need to be challenged in Stockholm. Not in the same manner or scale as the World Water Forums, but in a way that signals to everyone that there are other voices and views on water than those espoused by the corporate, water-for-profit, idealogues.

This is why international activists are teaming up with a wonderful group of Swedish activists to work together this week in Stockholm. This will surely be the beginning of future collaborations. It comes at a time when public water in Sweden itself is under threat and there is a clear need for Swedish people to stand up and protect their public water system.

We will be actively trying to ensure the new global water operator partnership remains a non-profit initiative. We will voice the truth that effective public water systems, democratically -controlled and properly resourced are the best hope for solving the world water crisis. We will demand implementation of water as a human right to counter the dangers of unleashing water markets against the most vulnerable people trying to survive in the harshest environments.

Between the work on the outside of the event and what we can accomplish inside, this week proves to be interesting.



Which water will the Prime Minster choose?

By America Vera-Zavala

On Sunday Prime Minister Reinfeldt will hold the opening speech at Stockholm Water Week. I wonder which kind of water the prime minister will choose. I myself always drink clean and fresh water from the tap. I specifically ask for it when speaking at public events. It is a political choice. Each year over 100 billion liter of bottled water is sold. Most often in non-recyclable plastic packaging; this is bad for the environment. Moreover, bottled water is part of the ongoing move towards privatization of water. The prime minister must clarfiy about his vision on water. Is water a commodity or a human right?

There is a clear pattern in the sell-out of water in countries around the world, following the implementation of neoliberal scenarios. The public sector takes the economic risk whereas transnational corporations cash in profits. When water is privatized, the corporation that bought up the utility makes profit out of what was build up collectively with tax payers' money. Public ownership is rolled back and those with capital, whether financial or cultural, hold bigger sway. Those without are left without water.

This is not the way it should be, say the water activists from different parts of the world who will gather in Stockholm at the occasion of the Nestle-sponsored water conference. Their goal is to present a different picture than the one promoted by large corporations. They bring with them many good examples of public-public partnerships, for instance the cooperation between the water company from Buenos Aires and a municipality in Peru. Among these activists are Nila Ardhianie from Amrta Institute, Indonesia and Luis Padron from the public water utility of Buenos Aires.

In the spring of 2002 I was traveling in Latin Ameica to write my book about participatory democracy ("Deltagande demokrati"). I spent two months studying the participatory budgeting process in Porto Alegre. I remember having lunch with a municipal civil servant working with the city's water supply. He shared his concerns about the International Monetary Fund, IMF, which demanded that Brazil would open its water market to allow transnational corporations to enter the market. The IMF's demands result in privatization, he said. The decision was to be made that spring by the parliament and the IMF's pressure was intense. During three weeks in the turbulent Argentina I observed how the water bills were a big problem for the crisis-hit population. Everything was privatized, also the water. But the problems with paying the water bills must be due to the the crisis, I thought at the time. The last three weeks I traveled to Chile to meet my father. During some days in March 2002, the main news in the Chilean media was that between 35 and 45% of the population couldn't afford to pay the water bills. Chile is
seen as one of Latin America?s leading economies.

It remains to be seen what Stockholm's mayor Kristina Axen Olin and development minister Gunilla Carlsson, who are also both speaking at Stockholm Water Week, will say about water privatization. For now, let's watch what kind of water the Prime Minister will be drinking during his speech.

(First published in Swedish in 'Efter Arbetet' -