It is unfortunate, as water is quickly becoming a source that currently and will continue to operate a vehicle political and economic interests throughout the globe. More concerning, the finite resources of freshwater (less than one half of one per cent of the world’s total water stock) are now being depleted at an easy rate – it is projected by the entire year 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population is going to be living in circumstances of serious water deprivation. The issue of water management and conservation has received special attention this month while the South-East of England is experiencing certainly one of its worst droughts since the 1920s. After 15 months of below average rainfall some parts of the nation is going to be suffering water supply controls during the summer – which raises the question of who manages water supplies.
The market of water management is dominated by French trans-national Suez (formerly Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux) and German conglomerate RWE. Ranked 79th and 78th among Fortune’s Global 100 List, both of these water companies capture nearly 40 percent of the existing water market share. These multinationals are now actually gaining a foothold in the United States, where they operate through numerous subsidiaries. Suez operates in 130 countries and Vivendi in over 100; their combined annual revenues are near $70 billion. RWE revenues are now over $50 billion (energy included), having acquired water company farm water tanks Thames Water in the United Kingdom.
The companies been employed by closely with the World Bank and other international financial institutions and lobby aggressively for legislation and trade laws to require countries to privatise their water (as a condition for receiving major loans and aid). Across major cities round the world-such as Buenos Aires- the World Bank has flexed its financial muscle to persuade local governments to sign long-term contracts with the major private water companies.
A perfect exemplory instance of this case is the privatisation of the Buenos Aires water utility by the Argentinean government in 1993. The Argentinean government in those days experiencing a critical economic crisis, characterised by hyperinflation, granted a 30-year concession to run the water system to Aguas Argentinas, a consortium controlled by two French water giants, Compagnie Gnrale des Eaux (now Vivendi) and Lyonnaise des Eaux (now Suez). The consortium didn’t pay anything for the concession, promising to cut back water bills for local citizens. At the time, it said that private firms would do better at bringing water and sewage connections to poor regions of the city. The sell-off of the water company was part of a wholesale auction of state assets to foreign and Argentine businesses. This is the perfect exemplory instance of how, sometimes, privatisation deals, while making fast cash for the us government – money usually used to pay for debts to the IMF, World Bank and other foreign creditors – are generally a poor deal for the public and filled with secrecy and corruption.
Soon thereafter, the World Bank declared the Buenos Aires privatisation an overwhelming success and caused it to be a type for privatisations of water that followed in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Australia. and South Africa. In the spring of 2002, the business defaulted on about $700 million in loans and threatened to cut back water services unless the us government guaranteed the loans in U.S. dollars. The us government refused, instead suggesting that Aguas Argentinas could save $6.3 million a year by reducing its executive salaries. The International Monetary Fund then insisted that President Eduardo Duhalde authorise an interest rate hike as a condition for renegotiating Argentina’s foreign debt. President Duhalde had no choice in the summer of 2002 but to grant Aguas Argentinas a 10 percent increase.
Back in France, Suez attended under scrutiny in a bunch of criminal and civil cases, with accusations including bribery of public officials, illegal political contributions, kickbacks, price fixing, operating cartels and fraudulent accounting. Suez have close ties to the French government; the water companies are claimed to be strong resources of income for the political parties, particularly Chirac’s RPR. In 2000, Jrme Monod, CEO of Suez from 1987 to 2000 left the business becoming a senior adviser to Chirac. Interestingly enough, the French government has taken a protectionist approach to the water business – no foreign companies have water concessions in France.
There’s undoubtedly large water companies including Suez, Vivendi and RWE have a responsibility with their shareholders to generate returns, however their biggest corporate responsibility must certanly be on the fair and equitable management of the host countries waters. Unfortunately, these companies have demonstrated a ruthless approach to the management of waters in foreign counties being plagued by corruption and price increase scandals. Government organisations are equally to blame for issues of corruption and misappropriation of resources within their countries. An ideal exemplory instance of weak government controls, is the role the Argentinean Water Management Agency, ETOSS played in the disastrous privatisation of Buenos Aires waters. ETOSS subordinated to corporate and government pressures and constantly altered the contracts between the us government, municipalities and the water conglomerates.
Thankfully, alternative resources of water management and collection are now being developed. As with the Namib fog beetle (in Africa) which collects moisture for sustenance of its body, fog collection is a growing program for the development of affordable water supplies. Fog collection is rather simple and affordable – large vertical shade nets are erected in high-lying areas near water-short communities. As fog passes through these shades, water droplets are deposited onto the net. Because the droplets become larger, they rundown the web into gutters attached at floor level. From there, water is channelled into reservoirs, and then to individual homes. Lets hope the distribution and development of fog collector technology, unlike water concessions, is performed in a equitable and transparent manner.