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 [https://portside.org/] 
Material of Interest to People on the Left 

 CASHING IN ON WATER CRISES: PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS ARE NOT THE
SOLUTION  
[https://portside.org/2018-02-05/cashing-water-crises-public-private-partnerships-are-not-solution]


 

 Julia Kassem 
 January 13, 2018
Truthout
[http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/43205-cashing-in-on-water-crises-public-private-partnerships-are-not-the-solution]


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 _ In the USA privatization practices contribute to increased water
bills and jeopardize water quality, endangering one of residents' most
basic needs. We can gain some perspective on the consequences of water
privatization by looking to a glaring overseas example: In Lebanon,
mismanagement of infrastructure has provided ample opportunity for
privatization to proliferate. In both cases, the pursuit of
privatization comes from cash-strapped places prioritizing
cost-cutting over resource conservation and quality. _ 

 JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images, Lebanese farmers irrigate their malt
fields in the Ammiq wetland in the Bekaa valley, on April 14, 2014. An
influx of Syrian refugees and longstanding water management problems
are leading to water shortages in the region. 

 

Across the US, cost-cutting municipalities are looking to private
companies and contractors to fix aging infrastructure. However, these
privatization practices contribute to increased water bills and
jeopardize water quality, endangering one of residents' most basic
needs.

We can gain some perspective on the consequences of water
privatization by looking to a glaring overseas example: In
Lebanon, mismanagement of infrastructure
[http://www.executive-magazine.com/economics-policy/lebanons-mismanagement-strikes-again] has
provided ample opportunity for privatization to proliferate. In both
cases, the pursuit of privatization comes from cash-strapped places
prioritizing cost-cutting over resource conservation and quality. The
privatization of water was the subject of Canadian leading water
rights activist Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke's 2002 article, "Who Owns
Water [https://www.thenation.com/article/who-owns-water/],"
forewarning that international brokers such as the World Bank will
become the intermediaries in commodifying water.

In the first major piece that echoed a Fortune article of two years
prior that water was to become the next oil
[http://archive.fortune.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2000/05/15/279789/index.htm],
Barlow and Clarke warned that the inclinations of the so-called
Washington Consensus neoliberal market economists would urge
developing economies to sell off the most basic and fundamental of
their endowments: their water resources. This is reflected in Lebanon,
where, despite recent plans to start offshore drilling by 2019
[http://www.businessinsider.com/ap-lebanon-oil-and-gas-drilling-to-begin-in-2019-2017-12],
the volatile realities of water, not oil, serve as the pretext for
many resource-based conflicts.

 An estimated 60,000 illegal wells have been dug in Lebanon alone. 
Privatized waste collection, coupled with the inability of the
government to pass a comprehensive waste treatment plan, contributed
to the 2015 garbage crisis
[http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/07/lebanon-beirut-trash-rubbish-crisis-150725060723178.html] when
a turgid landfill in Naameh closed up and trash collection effectively
stopped. The country's political elites made use of contracts
established between private companies and city services for financial
gain for themselves and their friends, profiting off a system that
is high cost yet dangerously lacking a sustainable or eco-friendly
approach to waste management
[http://jadchaaban.com/blog/one-year-on-lebanons-waste-management-policies-still-stink/].
The adverse effects to ocean shores, air quality and the health of
communities continue to exemplify Lebanon's wider political dilemma.
The nation has endured years without a president, continues to be
afflicted by a divided parliament and thus, remains without a
government able to oversee the most basic of human services.

The reality is that water is not inherently scarce in the country. In
fact, Lebanon is historically known for its abundant water resources.
Its groundwater and rivers have long been coveted by neighboring
countries, and have been the source of many conflicts, aggravated by
regional instability. Lebanon's water resources are particularly
notable, given the strain that water scarcity has placed upon its
neighbors: The Syrian Civil War was catalyzed in part by a three-year
drought
[http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/05/syria-civil-war-explained-160505084119966.html] that
drove displaced farmers into already crowded cities. The occupation of
Palestine partially hinged on acquisition and allocation of water
resources to Israel, with austerity policies against the Palestinians
continuing to rest upon water extortion
[http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/42699-thirsty-for-justice-how-israel-deprives-the-palestinians-of-access-to-water].
Water policy became a reflection of the nation's geopolitical role in
the world, as well as an articulation of its own deeply divided
society, post-colonization.

For decades, the gradual shift to privatization ascended in response
to Lebanon's mismanagement of its public resources, culminating in
the passage 
[http://www.businessnews.com.lb/cms/Story/StoryDetails.aspx?ItemID=6194]of
the Public Private Partnership law in August 2017. Ushered in by
Lebanon's Higher Council for Privatization, the law heralds foreign
investments in infrastructure. Politicians implemented the new policy
with promises of mitigating governmental shortcomings of neglect and
corruption, yet invited major party players to exchange the ill-gotten
gains amongst themselves. Private-public partnerships consist of
short-term private contracts to work on a public-sector entity --
situations in which accountability often falls by the wayside, and in
which key sector management issues -- such as over-extraction of
groundwater and severe wastewater mistreatment -- fail to be
addressed.

 Nearly 20 percent of Lebanese live without direct connection to
public water. 
The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the privatizing wing of
the World Bank Group, continues to invest in water privatization
companies such as Veolia, and more recently, SUEZ
[https://ifcextapps.ifc.org/ifcext/pressroom/ifcpressroom.nsf/0/6ECE5D3F92F1155C852580C900637134?OpenDocument].
The companies are setting their sights
[http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_BEI-13-71_en.htm] on ailing
infrastructural systems in the Global South in places like the Arab
world, particularly in response to the abandonment of public-private
contracts in some large US cities. 

"In the United States, SUEZ and Veolia are the two largest [water
contracting] companies that haven't been growing too much [due to]
failures," Food & Water Watch's Public Water for All Campaign Director
Mary Grant told Truthout. Since 2000, these transnationals have lost
at least 180 contracts, including at least 59 in the United States
[https://www.tni.org/files/download/heretostay-en.pdf], even
triggering the IFC to partially divest from Veolia in 2014, 
[https://www.corporateaccountability.org/blog/part-of-world-bank-divests-from-veolia/]due
to escalating pressure from activists to stop investing in
disaster-capitalist water projects worldwide.

A decade prior, a fallout between Atlanta, Georgia, and the SUEZ
subsidiary United Water
[http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/10/us/as-cities-move-to-privatize-water-atlanta-steps-back.html] following
a public-private partnership agreement, resulted in the city taking
back control of its municipal water systems. The 20-year contract,
launched in 1999, was terminated in 2003 following city complaints
of subpar service, erratic and mismanaged billing, and poor water
quality. In other cities, contracts fell like dominoes;
Indianapolis shunned Veolia in 2010
[https://www.ibj.com/articles/23102-veolia-losing-water-contract-will-get-29m-termination-fee] following
concerns of water safety and misplaced costs. Poor water quality,
underqualified staff and failure to perform maintenance checks caused
Gladewater, Texas, to break off
[http://www.remunicipalisation.org/print/Gladewater] a 16-year
contract with Veolia in 2012.

Beyond service problems, Grant pointed out that private contractors
that gain popularity in cash-strapped or poorly governed lands
generally do not actually solve the infrastructural issues at hand.
Addressing these issues requires experts, not contractors, to
undertake rehabilitation efforts. "Again, this is in the name of
cost-cutting and saving," she said.

SUEZ, whose contract with Atlanta was terminated, is credited with
having secured 24-hour water access in Tripoli, though unable to
conduct an independent review
[https://books.google.com/books?id=yOg7kRrCJy4C&pg=PA179&lpg=PA179&dq=24+hour+water+access+tripoli+lebanon&source=bl&ots=kzaFrN8b3S&sig=7yOy8yUyntBV0Iv7inhzsvvehKQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjF3Oy0n8vYAhUp9YMKHRcqAqcQ6AEIRDAE#v=onepage&q=24%20hour%20water%20access%20tripoli%20lebanon&f=false] assessing water
quality and sanitation
[http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/handle/JRC42101] in
nearby waters. Unequipped with independent, local government
watchdogs, Tripoli was not able to oust privatizers for subpar service
-- but it nevertheless abandoned its contract in 2007, due to
government disorganization.

Privatization follows the excess of waste and mismanagement of the
water infrastructure in Lebanon's historically ample and pristine
water supply. As is, many only have access to water for a few hours
per day. An estimated 60,000
[http://www.executive-magazine.com/economics-policy/lebanons-mismanagement-strikes-again] illegal
wells have been dug in Lebanon alone, and according to the World
Bank, a third of them
[http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2014/09/30/preserving-lebanon-s-water-before-the-wells-run-dry] are
in the Greater Beirut area. Many pipes in Lebanon's system are
leaking. Lebanese people already buy from private sources regularly,
including purchasing water tankers and water bottles
[https://water.fanack.com/lebanon/water-use/further-water-use/#_ftn1] instead
of drinking from taps, and nearly 20 percent of Lebanese live
without direct connection to public water
[https://data2.unhcr.org/es/documents/download/60715].

And it is not just water systems that are the transnationals' cash
cows. Bottled water -- the vast majority of which
[http://yalibnan.com/2016/01/08/80-of-lebanons-bottled-drinking-water-is-not-suitable-for-drinking/] falls
short of quality drinking standards -- makes up a significant portion
of water consumption in Lebanon. Nestlé
[https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/12/27/573774328/california-says-nestle-lacks-permits-to-extract-millions-of-gallons-of-water] --
the Swiss transnational 
[https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/12/27/573774328/california-says-nestle-lacks-permits-to-extract-millions-of-gallons-of-water]responsible
for over-extracting water in California 
[https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/12/27/573774328/california-says-nestle-lacks-permits-to-extract-millions-of-gallons-of-water]during
a drought, buying up aquifers
[https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-09-21/nestl-makes-billions-bottling-water-it-pays-nearly-nothing-for] in
West Michigan for cheap as Flint residents continue to be overcharged
for contaminated water, and unfairly tapping into groundwater access
in multiple
[http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36451-pennsylvania-community-defeats-nestle-s-attempt-to-privatize-its-water] small towns
[http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36129-our-water-our-future-voters-in-oregon-defeat-nestle-s-attempt-to-privatize-their-water] and
municipalities across the US
[http://truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/nestle-shouldn-t-continue-profiting-from-pumping-water-from-public-lands] for
cheap -- fully purchased Sohat in 2001
[http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Business/Lebanon/2001/Jan-23/19784-nestle-completes-purchase-of-nations-no-1-water-brand.ashx],
effectively gaining control of 35 percent of Lebanon's bottled water
market share
[https://www.albawaba.com/business/nestle-completes-acquisition-sohat].

Today, Lebanon is facing down an impending severe water shortage.
According to the World Resources Institute, it is one of 33 countries
[http://www.wri.org/blog/2015/08/ranking-world%E2%80%99s-most-water-stressed-countries-2040] projected
to be among the world's most water-stressed in 2040. Lebanon's water
over-extraction is furthered by a rapidly rising population, including
a million-and-a-half Syrian refugees
[https://ec.europa.eu/echo/files/aid/countries/factsheets/lebanon_syrian_crisis_en.pdf].
Along its borders, Lebanon has witnessed multiple water wars that have
impacted the nation -- such as the entanglements
[https://electronicintifada.net/content/shebaa-farms-real-issue-water/8438] from
the Shebaa farms to Litani River that have characterized its own
water-based conflicts with Israel.

Through development projects in Lebanon, as well as much of the Global
South, transnational corporations and the World Bank have benefited
from offering loans -- over $1.3 billion in Lebanon, with $674
million alone for the water sector
[http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/lebanon/overview#2] -- to fund
projects that ignore pollution and groundwater waste. Projects, such
as Lebanon's Bisri Dam, a World Bank experiment of the Water
Augmentation Project
[http://projects.worldbank.org/P125184?lang=en], have provided no
actual solution to stymie pollution or solve water shortages
[http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTINSPECTIONPANEL/Resources/Full_Request_for_Web.pdf],
yet the threat of displacing local farmers of the Bisri valley and
the dam's haphazard placement on a geographic fault line
[https://www.thenational.ae/world/1.93345] imply that the stakes for
the average citizen are much higher than the alleged benefits.

Lebanon's water pollution reached new levels a few years after the
2015 garbage crisis, a fault of the little attention given to proper
waste management and water sanitation -- issues that privatizing loan
sharks do not fix. "The European Union gives loans to Lebanon, and
then the only entity controlling what is done with the loan is the
Council for Development and Reconstruction," said
[https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/07/lebanon-water-pollution-garbage-crisis.html#ixzz53TBTHmPm] social
activist and economist Jad Chaaban [http://jadchaaban.com/about/] in
July 2017. "No independent organization checks what is done with this
money -- it is a political problem."

In 2014, Lebanon's Civic Influence Hub, a lobbying group of predatory
businessmen urging support for "economic development initiatives,"
touted the Blue Gold Project
[http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/19130] as the solution to
Lebanon's water shortages. Little information, aside from television
ads and promotional material, had offered an objective insight into
the realities of the project as the campaign excessively heralded the
virtues of "transforming water from a simple commodity to a national
wealth." The five-year plan to manage water resources essentially
delegates systems to private-sector pundits. The Blue Gold project
represented a microcosm of Lebanon's push to privatize its failed
water system, undertaken by opportunistic private-sector politicians,
business executives, lobbyists and pundits.

As disaster capitalism ventures into the war-torn and droughted Arab
world, will Lebanon be the next nation for water privatized to cash in
on the crisis? Will Lebanon's plans to off-shore drill compound its
existing issue of water as the frontier of existing resource wars?

In Lebanon and around the world, the basic issues of water quality and
safety must find a place in policy-oriented discussions over water. If
this occurs, countries and municipalities stand a chance of eschewing
private-public partnerships -- and ensuring that water is not treated
as simply another commodity to be sold.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission. 
Reprinted with permission.

_Julia Kassem is a Detroit-based writer, researcher and activist, and
a University of Michigan Economics and Political Science graduate. Her
work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Michigan Radio, DPTV and ReORIENT._

This story was published because of support from readers like you. If
you care about maintaining a free and independent media, make a
donation to Truthout! [https://www.truth-out.org/support-us/#top]

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