Sunday, 3 July 2022 – 04:07

Water As A Human Right? – Water Scarcity & Water Privatisation

NOTE: This is an opinion article – any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Speaker or any members of its team.

Water scarcity has grown to be an alarming issue in current global affairs. Despite a considerable improvement seen in the last two decades, whereby estimated 2.6 billion people have gained access to safe water sources and improved water facilities, the situation remains dire. In 2011, 41 states around the globe have experienced some kind of water stress whilst 10 of those countries were close to depleting their supply of renewable fresh water. Currently more than 40 percent of worlds’ population is affected by water scarcity in one way or another. This figure is estimated to steadily rise to the point when, in 2050, every one in four people will be effected by various levels of water shortages. Lack of access to safe, sufficient and affordable water sources has a detrimental effect on the health, dignity and prosperity of billions of people. Seeing the significance of the aforementioned, the United Nations recognised water as a human right and thus a common public and environmental good, not longer than a decade ago.

Despite the aforementioned, conceptualisation of water as a human right is not supported by everyone. It is often opposed by those who view water as a commodity which has to be priced to be used in an an efficient and sustainable way. According to Andreas Bieler, a well-known scholar who researched the topic, against the background of the ongoing global economic crisis, the privatisation of public assets has facilitated the creation of a global infrastructure market. Unfortunately, water services are no exception. In the latest decades, water privatisation has become a new opportunity for lucrative investment. Willem Buiter, Citigroup’s top economist, emphasised ‘the water market will soon eclipse oil’. The ‘new water barons’ — the Wall Street mega-banks and billionaire tycoons— are buying up water all over the world at an unprecedented pace. The mega-banks consist of, for instance, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, Barclays Bank, HSBC Bank, and the Blackstone group whilst wealthy tycoons include T. Boone Pickens, former President George H.W. Bush, Hong Kong’s Li Ka-shing, Philippines’ Manuel V. Pangilinan and other billionaires. Such ‘rush for water’ is explained by a number following trends: a growing interest in new energy sources that could be portrayed as renewable; the promotion of private foreign and domestic direct investment by host national governments; and finally, privatisation heavily encouraged by water and energy sector in the name of efficiency and sustainability.

The effect of water privatisation is so detrimental that Andreas Biller went as far as to say that water is only there for those who can afford to pay for it, others have to rely on insecure sources to get it. No wonder that the struggle against water privatisation has picked up the pace. Anti-water privatisation campaigns and protests have occurred all around the world. These campaigns have grouped around the coalitions of unions, environmental groups and alter-globalisation activists such as Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen in the United States, Maud Barlow’s Council of Canadians and the Transnational Institute. And whilst merely the existence of such anti-privatisation campaigns is a victory in its own right, a number of successful campaigns from the Cochabamba water wars in 2000 to the European citizens initiative ‘Water and Sanitation are a Human Right’ in 2012 has been increasing steadily in the last decades.

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