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Oxfam International has come out and said what many feel: rich countries must cut out the middlemen that siphon off money promised to countries for water and waste systems, or many more millions of people will die from unhealthy living conditions due to contaminated water and poor sanitation.

In a recent report, Oxfam charges that people are dying as a result of deliberate decisions made by donor countries and agencies such as the World Bank. Many developing countries are encouraged, if not coerced, by donor agencies to hire private corporations to build and run health and hospital systems, water and waste managements facilities, and even the schools and training institutions.

If donor countries do not end these practices, warns Belinda Calaguas, head of policy at WaterAid and a co-author of the Oxfam report, we can expect more assessments like this: “There are more than a billion people living without access to clean, safe water and 2.6 billion people have nowhere to go to the toilet. That leads to the inevitable spread of water-related diseases that claim the lives of 6,000 children every day.”

According to the Oxfam report, donor countries must end policies that encourage dependency, and redirect money toward helping countries and their governments develop their capacities to control their own water, sanitation, health and education systems.

“[Agencies like the World Bank] often use their influence to push private-sector solutions to public service failures and see increased involvement of the private sector as the key to increasing efficiency and improving services,” explained Barbara Stocking of Oxfam Great Britain.

For example, last year, Tanzania had become dissatisfied after a UK-based company had failed to deliver on a contract to provide adequate water supplies to the country. The company had been pressed upon Tanzania by the World Bank as a condition of a development loan for a new water system.

According to a report in the Independent newspaper, “Oxfam said while the UK had taken a strong stance in favour of free provision of services such as health in its White Paper this summer, it was disappointed that, as the second biggest contributor to the World Bank, it had not taken a stronger role in changing policy at the Washington-based lender.”

Oxfam recognizes that it’s not up to private corporations to improve living conditions in developing countries. That’s the job of the governments of those countries. However, so long as development agencies insisted on pushing foreign companies to develop systems instead of funding the development of indigenous capacity, disastrous failures and more deaths could be expected.