Peter Niggli: “Water must be subject to public management and control”
Published on Wed, 2012-08-08 15:41
Conflicts on water all over the world responds to “the absence of recognized policy mechanisms and public institutions for managing water resources and allocating water in accordance with criteria that can be understood by the public” and can not be settled by market mechanisms, according to Peter Niggli, director of Alliance Sud, focal point of Social Watch in Switzerland.
“Water must be subject to public management and control. Even then, prices must be charged so as to make it possible to operate the water facilities,” added Niggli’s report about the matter, published on Alliance Sud web site.
Niggli’s report reads as follows:
Water conflicts and government control
Peter Brabeck, chairman of the Board of Directors of Nestle, recently laid out his ideas concerning a sustainable water policy at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. His view is that scarce water resources would best be allocated by means of market mechanisms, reported.
The first amongst them would be cost-covering prices for industry and agriculture as well as for household uses that go beyond basic personal needs. The second would be tradeable water utilization rights. To fulfil the human right to water, Brabeck suggested that a basic amount of 25 litres should be provided free of cost per day and per person «for those who cannot pay».
With the exception of the minimum basic amount, these ideas are also being exposed by the Water Resources Group, which comprises major corporations with very high water consumption levels.
In fact, Nestle, Coca-Cola, Rio Tinto and other members of the group are repeatedly becoming embroiled in conflicts with local communities in whose territories they pump water. Residents and farming families complain of falling water tables or contaminated water resources. Nestlé's water-bottling plants in Pakistan or Brazil also face such complaints.
What typifies these conflicts is the absence of recognized policy mechanisms and public institutions for managing water resources and allocating water in accordance with criteria that can be understood by the public.
At the Zurich event, I took the view that water must be subject to public management and control. Even then, prices must be charged so as to make it possible to operate the water facilities. Besides, the public authority could use its pricing policy to cross-finance the basic amount. Lastly, it would need to pursue a price policy that instead of granting rebates to large consumers (what is the result if market mechanisms prevail) would entail charging higher prices so as to bring about efficiency gains. Brabeck's response was that it did not matter who operated the water supply system, whether the public sector or private sector, someone simply had to do it.
Brabeck should launch a discussion on that matter in the Water Resources Group, which he chairs, for up to now, it has expressly promoted only public-private partnerships for water management systems, with the support of the World Bank's International Finance Corporation.
Although since 2005 the World Bank has acknowledged that the private water operators have not lived up to the expectations placed in them, it would still like to make the private sector the main player in water management.
Yet the alternative has been obvious for years now: development agencies should invest in rehabilitating and expanding public water supply networks in a manner that takes on board the views of those directly affected. Switzerland should advocate such a change of course within the World Bank Board of Directors.