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Water blog Part II – should water be privatized?
In the second part of our special blog series on water, Julian Claudi asks – is it necessary to privatize water, what are the different approaches around the world and what has happened in instances where a private corporation has indeed got its hands on the neighborhood pump or the household tap?
To pick a prominent example of the kind of passions and conflicts water privatization can unleash, let’s go back to the year 2000 – to Bolivia. There, the Andean city of Cochamaba erupted in protest after a private, foreign-led consortium took over the city’s water system. The previous year, in September 1999, the Bolivian government privatized the water supply in Cochamaba and allocated the rights to Aquas del Tunari, an affiliated company of Bechtel Corporation (Bechtel Group) which is ranked as the fifth-largest privately owned company in the US.
It must be said that Cochabamba suffered from a chronic water shortage. Most of the poorest neighborhoods were not hooked up to the network, so state subsidies to the water utility went mainly to industries and middle-class neighborhoods. In the World Bank’s view, it was a city that was crying out for water privatization.In a nutshell, the World Bank threatened to freeze credit to Bolivia if it did not privatize water.
But the consequences for the people were drastic – Aquas del Tunari raised the water rates many times over, which led to a national uprising. As a result, the Bolivian government backtracked and disbanded the contract with the company. In turn, Bechtel tried to sue Bolivia for over $50 million in compensation. Battered by several years of bad publicity, Bechtel finally settled the $50 million lawsuit for a symbolic amount of about 30 cents on January 19, 2006.
To get a glimpse of what happened in Bolivia in 2000, it’s worth watching “Abuela Grillo,“ an animated short film by a group of Bolivian artists which is based on the events in Cochamaba as well as on a myth from the Bolivian lowlands and deals in a metaphorical way with the issue:
The European Union may be far away from such a scenario nowadays, but there are already over one million Europeans who have signed the citizen’s initiative “Water is a human right“. Their biggest worry is that the EU will privatize European waterworks in the mid-term and through the back door.
The reason for the concerns are a much quoted proposal from the EU Commission to change a concessions directive to bring more market competition between public and private water suppliers “to ensure that EU companies have access to business opportunities and that public authorities get the best value for money.”
At the same time, the Commission insisted repeatedly in several press releases earlier this year that “the proposed directive will therefore not lead, under any circumstances, to imposed privatization of water services.” So will that really be the case? Not exactly, according to the non-profit foundation and campaign group Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO). It says the planned directive on concessions of the EU commission could have unforeseen consequences.
“Municipalities who have some form of private participation in their water supply, even a small part, would have to offer their water contracts for EU-wide bidding. This would give private water multinationals like Suez and Veolia new opportunities to expand,” the group says.
At the end of June this year, the EU Commission then unexpectedly said it would reconsider its position in light of “the concerns expressed by so many citizens.”
It’s probably not the last word in the public discussion about water privatization in the European context. Meanwhile, in many places around the world, water privatization is already a hot button issue with various models and strategies being discussed, practiced and fought against.
Advocates of privatization have many arguments. A common one is that “private entrepreneurs are more efficient in increasing access to clean drinking water and have more technological skills and more assets for investment.”
Another is that privatization is the right thing in general if “a government that is strong enough to uphold regulations and to force the private company to do a good job.”
Meanwhile, opponents have their own list of convincing points – mainly that the environmental price for privatization is simply too high. “Privatization has been accompanied by the degradation of water quality, increase in water loss, deterioration of infrastructure and increase in prices,” according to some.
There are yet other, more moderate voices that suggest that say that water must have a certain price to avoid ongoing water scarcity in many places. The Irish think tank, Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA), for instance, comes to the conclusion that “water pricing” is an option which must be considered:
Another school of thought sees a constructive solution in re-municipalization – that means putting the water supply back in public hands. That’s what happened in Paris and Argentina:
A project from Greece called “Initiative 136” takes a different tack. It’s an attempt at a third way by avoiding both water privatization as well as public-private-partnerships.
“The idea is that if every water user bought a non-transferable share, ‘the public could own the water company through a system of neighbourhood co-operatives of water users coming together through a single overall co-operative.’136 euros is the figure you get from dividing the 60 million euros for which the company is to be put on the stock market by the number of water meters in the city.”
At the time, activists from the citizen campaign “Human Right to Water” are going in the same direction but aiming at high level EU institutions directly. “We are taking up the challenge to get implementation of the human right to water and sanitation’ on the European political agenda,” they say.
Meanwhile in Bolivia, residents of Cochabamba’s southern zones “frustrated with both the private and public water management models,[…] are increasingly relying on traditional community-run water systems as an alternative.”
There are a host of players involved in the water privatization debate – public state supply advocates, private companies, public-private-partnerships and cooperative citizen shareholder movements. They all have their own concepts about how access to water can be best ensured. In the best case, the different ideas will merge into a sustainable and resilient supply system and contribute to a fair and free global right to water distribution for everyone.
Surely this goal is only achievable under the premise of a local and global framework of sustainability and participation and not with an overarching focus on profit.
DateJuly 12, 2013
Tagsbechtel, bolivia, cochamaba, conflict, energy, julian claudi, money, privatizatin, resources, water
Water blog Part I – can virtual water tackle a looming crisis?
In 2010, UN Resolution 64/292 explicitly recognized the human right to clean water and sanitation, acknowledging that they are essential to the realization of all human rights. The numbers are staggering. The UN claims that 783 million people had no access to clean water in 2012.
But according to Asit Biswas, a former member of the World Commission on Water, the real figures are probably much higher. “Look at South Asia alone. Some 1.7 billion people live in this region. I challenge anyone to show me a single city or village where people have access to clean water. My guess is that some 2.3 billion people are now without access to clean water”, Biswas told The European.
So is the world fast running out of clean water, or is it all a question of better water management? And if so what could it look like? This three-part blog series by Julian Claudi will focus on several proposed and partly tried and tested methods and techniques for improving the situation.
We start off by taking a closer look at virtual water trading and real water trading. What’s the deal with these concepts? They’re not really new terms and a lot has been said and done about them for several years. But could they become tools for a solution?
The Virtual Water conceptreveals how much water it takes to produce any product. It refers to the “hidden” water use embedded in products and helps us realize how much water is needed to produce the goods we use and the food we eat. For instance, for one cup of coffee about 140 liters of water is needed. That includes the water used in growing, producing, packaging and shipping the beans that went into that cup of coffee. Read more: http://bit.ly/12RrrcT
Virtual water trade refers to the flow of water if food or other commodities are traded from one place to another. That means there is a virtual flow of water from producing and exporting countries to countries that consume and import those commodities.
A new study by the EU commission has shown that agricultural products are by far the largest drain on water resources. It says that the consumption water footprint of the average EU citizen is 4,815 litres per day, 40 percent of which is the result of imports from other countries, mainly cocoa, coffee and cotton. Comparing imports and exports showed that the EU28 is a net importer of ‘virtual’ water.
John Anthony Allen, a British geographer is widely credited with creating and popularizing the idea of “virtual water” with his book, Virtual Water: Tackling the Threat to our Planet’s Most Precious Resources. “Our ignorance is immense,” Allen has said. “Most of us don’t have the slightest idea about the sheer volumes of water involved in our daily lives.” He was awarded the the Stockholm Water Prize in 2008 for his contributions.
So would it make sense to use virtual water calculations for a global trading system? Opinions are divided. Much like the criticism surrounding carbon emission trading between industrialized nations and developing ones, critics of the virtual water trade concept argue that several aspects carry negative consequences for the poorest countries like rising dependency on external water resources or the possibility given by trade to “exploit” water resources in other parts of the world.
A paper written for Germany’s Helmholtz Center for Environment Research says global interlinkages of water resources induced by trade can worsen gaps between nations.
“Feelings of unfairness arise due to the fact that those countries which are endowed with the most abundant water resources and thus are able to supply virtual water to the arid countries of the South (the Big Five), belong to the group of wealthy industrial countries, which are able to influence agricultural trade in many ways. On the one hand, high levels of protection in the form of tariffs and quotas, especially of the European Union, the USA and Japan, are criticised for being a major constraint for ‘the development of the virtual water market’”.
In contrast, hydrologist Ignacio Rodriguez-Iturbe, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Princeton University, sees the virtual water system as a water saving solution, concluding “that in most scenarios the total amount of virtual water trade will decrease by 2030, but the amount of water saved as a result of the trade will increase.“
The whole virtual water phenomenon has also led to a debate on water trading markets, which some say have the potential to revolutionize the way water is managed.
Yet, the US-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) says in the study “Water Governance in the 21st Century: Lessons from Water Trading in the U.S. and Australia” that allocation of water should not be based on commodification and economic efficiency alone.
“The national water sector reforms underway in many countries should consider the hidden costs of existing market based approaches, and should be premised on the notion of water as a commons, available first and foremost for public purposes (including the realization of right to water and right to food).”
Finally, one thing most experts seem to agree on is that the virtual water concept does raise awareness about the daily water consumption in the western world.
But at the same time it appears that as long as the concept of virtual water is inextricably linked with the current prevalent global economic trade system, there is always the risk of an ineffectiveness of the system causing unjust financial advantages and a distraction from the search for other solutions.
Some experts such as Maude Barlow, co-founder of the Blue Planet Project, which works internationally for the human right to water, warn of water’s close links to the international trading system.
“We’ve got to stop thinking that the water wars of the future will be on a battlefield somewhere, they’re going to be on the grain markets, the stock markets and grain trading as part of the international trading system. It is about the water that has been pulled into this profit-making mostly food production and it’s very dangerous,” Barlow said.
DateJuly 5, 2013
Fracking: Promised Land
Following the international premiere of “Promised Land” at the packed Berlinale film festival press conference in Berlin last week, actor Matt Damon said the movie, directed by Gus van Sant which deals with fracking, is a film about American identity but at the same time a global issue.
The film’s international premiere was accompanied by news agencies announcing that Russian gas company and exporter Gazprom plans to cut gas prices for European customers in the billions in 2013. According to several experts, this maneuver could be linked, besides strong competition in the liquefied gas export sector, directly to sinking gas prices: the fracking boom in the US is believed to have already lowered international gas prices even though the US is not exporting gas (yet!) to Europe.
It’s yet another example of the so-called US shale gas revolution that’s already transforming the political global power structure. And it looks like fracking will likely increase globally for geostrategic, power and profit reasons in the next years.
“Promised Land” takes place exactly against this backdrop. It takes an in-depth look at how the industry operates and shows the possible consequences by using an intelligent and precise analogy of a psychological war happening in the US in areas with huge underground gas reservoirs. It focuses on how a nine-billion-dollar corporation tries to get its hand on much-needed land, how they operate psychologically and what alternatives citizens are left with. The film shows how the corporate salesman Steve Buttler (Matt Damon) and his colleague Sue Thomason (Francis McDormand) work hard to buy the village community with some entertaining and clever twists and turns of the plot.
The main aim of the film obviously is to raise awareness among people and to get them to think deeply about the dynamics and consequences of fracking. Matt Damon said after the premiere that if you are searching for more in-depth information about the fracking process you should research online. It would be simply impossible to lay out all the pros and cons of fracking in one feature film but it’s still packed with information.
The movie avoids black and white clichés, but it’s pretty clear that the makers of the film care about the “small people” and how big corporations are trying to manipulate them with scare tactics and playing on existential fears – circumstances which have heightened in the last decades through an unsustainable neoliberal capitalistic system. It is pretty clear that the corporation in the movie is a child of that system and that the same unregulated system produced and created in many ways the situation the village’s residents are in right now: earning less money, living in constant fear of losing their jobs, drowning in debt, not being able to give their children a decent education, not knowing if they can die with dignity.
The film addresses all these issues but it hasn’t been too successful in the US. It remains to be seen how it will fare at the international box office and what impact it will have on the ongoing fracking debate.
DateFebruary 20, 2013
Tagscoal, damon, energy, expolsion, feroli, fracking, ipaa, jp morgan, julian claudi, leaks, natural gas, oil, promised land, resource, resources, special, supply, united states, US
Fracking in a Nutshell (Part 5)
We’re ending our blog series about the hydraulic fracturing method with a selective overview about particular occurrences connected with fracking which may lead you deeper into the layers of the fracking process.
# The movie “Gasland” by director Josh Fox in 2010, has become a popular basis for discussions about fracking. The director and activist set a milestone with his work, raising some key questions that marked the public discussion in the US. Perhaps we can mention two specific incidents to underline the far-reaching impact of his work.
# The Independent Petroleum Association of America felt obliged to send a detailed public letter to the Oscar Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in February 2011. It was a reaction to the Oscar nomination for “Gasland.” The eight-page paper which contradicts every single theory in the film about the harm and damage resulting from fracking ends laconically with the words: “Anything we miss? Guess we’ll be seeing you at the movies. Maybe not this one, though.”
# The IPAA financed a documentary which has been available on the internet since June 2012 and which contradicts every premise of Gasland, it’s called Truthland.
# At the beginning of 2012, the New York Times gathered and published with a short statement hundreds of leaked intern industry e-mails, which showed the majority were sceptical about the fracking boom: “Over the past six months, The New York Times reviewed thousands of pages of documents related to shale gas, including hundreds of industry e-mails, internal agency documents and reports by analysts. A selection of these documents is included here; names and identifying information have been redacted to protect the confidentiality of sources, many of whom were not authorized by their employers to communicate with The Times.”
# Environmental activist Erin Brokovich called fracking not specifically “longterm solution-driven” in a TV interview in August 2012 as she gathered a ton of e-mails from anxious US citizens living in areas which might be affected by fracking and as she claimed: “Let’s stop the bullshit and get down to finding some solutions to our problems.”
# Recently “Promised Land,” the first Hollywood fiction film about fracking was released in US cinemas and led to a huge discussion even before it was shown to the public. “The energy industry is worried that it will be presented in a critical light and is preparing possible responses, such as providing film reviewers with scientific studies, distributing leaflets to moviegoers and launching a ‘truth squad’ initiative on Twitter and Facebook,” the Journal said.
Additionally, here are some international events connected with fracking which one might not necessarily have expected.
# Speculations say Russian oil company Gazprom is interested in seeing an European fracking ban. “Some predict what was once unthinkable: that the U.S. won’t need to import natural gas in the near future, and that Russia could be the big loser.”
# It is said that Exxon Mobil thanks to fracking became fond of Siberia:
“According to reports, the Russian government is placing its hopes on Exxon Mobil to help it unlock oil trapped in the Bazhenov shale formation in Western Siberia. Estimates say that the block could 13 billion barrels of oil and Rosneft and Exxon are targeting old fields in the region that no longer produce oil.”
# Several Indian farmers supposedly “profit” from the Fracking Boom:
“US companies drilling for oil and gas in shale formations have developed a voracious appetite for the powder-like gum made from the seeds of guar, or cluster bean, and the boom in their business has created a bonanza for thousands of small-scale farmers in India who produce 80 percent of the world’s beans.”
# Fracking finally has also entered popular fiction: Comics, romance novels and Grisham-esque thrillers are already dealing with it.
It’s fair to say that fracking is unlikely to disappear in the upcoming years in the global energy supply discussion. Whether you want to get deeper into the subject, campaign against it or are simply interested in the economic outcome, we hope the blog gave you a good overview of the subject.
DateJanuary 30, 2013
Tagscoal, energy, expolsion, feroli, fracking, ipaa, jp morgan, julian claudi, leaks, natural gas, oil, resource, resources, special, supply, united states, US
Fracking: A Bridge to the Future? (Part 4)
At the start, several economists, environmentalists and non-profit organizations considered fracking to be a solid bridge technology on the way to a completely renewable energy supply.
“This is a real opportunity for your industry – this is not a ‘bridge to nowhere’ that we are talking about. Natural gas provides a bridge to the future. To the extent that you can deliver gas at a reasonable cost, you can be part of the solution to climate change.”
That statment from Eileen Claussen, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), came from her controversial speech in 2008.
But now, fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, has come under fire from all sides. In fact, they believe it’s a counter-productive bridge to nowhere.
Oil and gas are becoming cheaper and competitive again due to fracking. That has in turn put the transition from fossil fuels to renewables in danger.
So what is the solution? Is there any way to reconcile the two driving factors, economic profit and ecologic sustainable development?
Or is there simply not enough research into the pros and cons of fracking yet?
Yale University posed that question to a panel of experts last September:
The opinions diverge, to say the least. If you are still new to the subject, get a short overview in the upcoming 5th and last part of the Global Ideas Fracking Blog series.
DateJanuary 26, 2013
Tagscoal, energy, expolsion, feroli, fracking, ipaa, jp morgan, julian claudi, leaks, natural gas, oil, resource, resources, special, supply, united states, US