Johannesburg Summit: Water as the common good

Water is a big item on the agenda at the Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). Once traditionally available to the poor, water is becoming a huge problem in many poor communities, with 40 percent of the world?s population estimated not have access to sufficient water. ?More than 1 billion people are without safe drinking water,? claims UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, ?and more than 3 million people die every year from diseases caused by unsafe water.? In many countries, water has been diverted to large dams and waterways owned and operated by private corporations. Private interests and pricing mechanisms exclude poorer communities from receiving their share of the water. The rationale behind privatisation is the belief that the private sector can manage resources more efficiently and the pricing system serves as the valve that will control unlimited use. Poorer households do not figure in this argument, and water has become even scarcer than before. Privatisation experiences in many countries have shown that water supply should instead be considered a public good, accessible to everyone, while government regulation ensures it is not depleted in the long-run. NGOs present in Bali (Indonesia, 27 May -7 June), at the last Preparation Conference of WSSD, were frustrated by the dominance of trade and finance discussions over social and environmental concerns. Privatisation and consequent deregulation are a source of division between the NGOs and the ministers drafting the report, and the preparatory Committee failed to agree on a draft action plan for the approaching Summit. Developing nations pushed for more aid, but clashed with the rich G-7 nations on the issue of financing. The key problem is the lack of a comprehensive and consistent framework acceptable to both developing and developed nations. [HL20607]