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KYOTO – At a World Water Forum session on actions to improve access to water, the head table fidgeted in their seats as participants pointed out key contradictions in the World Water Council’s (WWC) concept of what constitutes progress toward the goal of water for all.

Among those asking questions was David Hall of the Public Services International Research Unit in Greenwich, UK.

“It’s a classic case of the tail wagging the dog,” says Hall. “While 95 per cent of water services are delivered by the public sector, the Council continues to focus its efforts on expanding the scope of the five per cent that’s private.”

Given the history and membership of the Council, this is hardly surprising according to Public Services International (PSI) representative David Boys.

“From its inception the WWC has been funded by the global water corporations and the World Bank to foster the privatization of water systems,” says Boys. “It’s a powerful clique in the service of a mighty cartel who are more accountable to shareholders and stockbrokers than they are to the communities they say they’re committed to serving.”

In response to criticism by PSI and others, the Council has said that it would reform itself to incorporate representation from public water agencies and grassroots groups. But PSI believes the Council would do better to disband and direct its efforts through more accountable multilateral efforts.

“The WWC is like a board of corporate cronies, with a maze of interlocking directorships that reach into the multilateral funders, the water multinationals and the donor countries,” says Claude Gnreux of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, a member of the PSI delegation. “The whole focus of their efforts is to ’reform’ the public system out of existence, restructuring government in the service of water multinationals instead of expanding and improving public water systems.”

“Contrary to the Council’s vision, water isn’t everyone’s business,” says Lance Veotte of the South African Municipal Workers Union, a PSI affiliate. “For us, it’s not a question of commerce. It’s a commitment to human rights and human development. For the girl who misses school most days because she’s walking hours retrieving water, and for the family that’s migrated to a shantytown on the city’s edge in search of work and can’t afford the connection charge, and for the elderly woman who has had her water cut off because her frail health prevents her earning enough to pay the rising rates, there is no room for profits. They are looking to their governments to take direct action to protect their right to water, providing water as a public service, publicly delivered.”

“The tactics of the Council have been consistent,” says Inga-Lena Wallin, from the Swedish public workers union Kommunal, also a PSI affiliate. “They moan about scarce resources while pressing that an ever bigger slice of official development assistance be consumed in the service of privatization. They divert attention from corporate corruption by focusing on ethics in government. They dodge concerns about privatization, hiding behind so-called partnerships that are anything but equal.”

PSI, which represents 20 million public sector workers worldwide, has a strong presence at the Forum, with representatives from unions in 20 countries. Most of these delegates have seen first hand the problems with privatization of essential services – and they play a direct role in efforts to strengthen and improve quality public services. They are concerned the WWC ignored public water utilities in developing their inventory of world water actions over the past three years.

“When we have more than two billion people on this planet who lack reliable access to safe, clean water, the best way to serve these people is not through expanding the private sector’s role,” says Chaiwat Vorapeboonpong of the Metropolitan Waterworks Authority Union in Bangkok, Thailand. “The Council are building a huge water bureaucracy that will create ever more jobs for consultants, yet contribute precious little to meeting the needs of the world’s poor. If they were serious about water for all, they’d be focusing their efforts on strengthening and expanding public services”

For further information or to arrange interviews with PSI delegates:
Robert Fox – 090 5400 6576
David Boys – 090 5402 0433

Interviews can be arranged in English, Japanese, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, Thai, Bulgarian, Tagalog, Sri Lankan and other languages.