Water is a human right, not a product to be commercialized. This is the idea which has been propagated during the last World Social Forums and should take the form of concrete actions at the 2005 edition of the meeting in Brazil.
In 2001, 29 countries didn’t have sufficient fresh water for their entire populations. According to the United Nations (UN), in 2025 the number of countries that find themselves in this situation will rise to 48.
To make things worse, while daily water consumption in New York (USA) amounts to two thousand liters per inhabitant, the average on the African continent stands at 15 liters per inhabitant.
This debate is of particular interest to Brazil. Statistics show that 97% of the water on earth is salty and, of the remaining 3%, only 0.7% is potable. 8% of the world’s known fresh water stores are located in Brazilian territory.
Currently, over two billion people are unable to consume potable water. According to an article published in July 2004, “The dilemma of potable water in Brazil,” by Honeste Gomes, a professor from the state of Goiás, “for each 100 families, 58 do not have treated water.”
Even the so-called Agenda 21, an action plan developed by the UN and signed by 178 governments in 1992, dealing with man’s impacts on nature, proposes a daily supply of 40 liters for each person.
“Nonetheless, daily consumption extrapolates by a substantial margin the volume that is proposed,” Gomes affirms.
“Brazilians’ showers, which should be around 10 minutes, last 20-30 minutes on the average. (…) Waste is grounded in our cultural formation, in the mistaken view of infinite water resources,” he observes.
With the quantity shrinking all over the world and waste growing, some governments have decided to hand over the administration and distribution of water in their regions to private enterprise.
Environmental lawyer Antônio Carlos Soler, of the Center of Environmental Studies, a non-governmental organization that has worked on this issue for over 20 years, says that “for conceptual reasons, it is inadmissible to accept privatization, whatever the justification.”
“The predominant view is that it is an economic resource – which causes an enormous number of people to be deprived of access to water. Not because it doesn’t exist, but precisely because there are situations created by the economic perspective that lead to exclusion,” he explains.
He goes on to argue that “usage should be solidary and sustainable.”
Jocélio Drummond, representative of Public Services International (PSI), which gave the suggestion for the debate “Water as a human right, not a commercial good,” contends that studies and experiences involving privatization show the opposite.
At the end of 2004, the Public Service International Research Unit (a research unit on international public services) published a work including case studies from Argentina and Mozambique.
Its conclusion is that “the introduction of private companies in these sectors creates the permanent possibility of conflicts between private and public interests. (…) Policies that entrust these sectors to the corporate sphere are needlessly risky.”
The study recounts the case of Buenos Aires, where, in 1993, a consortium including the multinational corporation Suez won a 30-year local sanitation contract.
Following various rate increases, the company that was formed, Argentinean Waters, announced in 2002 that it was going to breach the contract unilaterally, because the crisis in Argentina had severely impacted profits.
Based on such examples, the environmental lawyer, Soler, believes that water “cannot be submitted to the logic of the market. It should sustain life and embody another, democratic dimension: The population should administer this process as well.”
Translation: David Silberstein.