Waternunc.com, the network for the water business

[ More information with Waternunc.com

Vivendi Water and Générale des Eaux (our website) : press relesases (english)
communiqués de presse (français)

Suez Ondeo Lyonnaise des Eaux (our website) : press relesases (english)
communiqués de presse (français)

About CorpWatch ]

Here, Web is good for your business Waternunc.com, advertising.
Picture Picture Picture Picture Picture Picture
Click the logo to go to the website
French Firms Spearhead Water Privatization

By Julio Godoy
Inter Press Service
March 22, 2002

PARIS, Mar 22 (IPS)
Two major French private companies, Vivendi and Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux, are part of the driving force behind the controversial privatisation of water world wide, according to the firms' own figures.

Vivendi Water calls itself "the world's leading provider of outsourced and privatised water and waste water treatment services and systems", a characterisation that Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux also applies for itself.

While Vivendi claims to have 110 million customers in more than 100 countries all over the world, Suez affirms to supply water to 115 million people in 130 countries in five continents.

This expansion is the result of an aggressive strategy that has led both companies to obtain contracts to supply and treat water in the whole world.

In recent weeks, Suez obtained contracts in Shanghai, in the People's republic of China, and in Senegal and Burkina Faso. Vivendi has expanded in Northern and Eastern Europe, with several contracts in Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany and Sweden.

And yet, leaders of both firms impassively proclaim that ''water is not a merchandise.''

Gerard Mestrallet, Chief Executive Officer of Suez, said this in Paris this week during the company's preparations to celebrate the World Water Day on Friday.

Immediately after the events of Sept 11, Mestrallet had urged the leaders of the northern world to ''provide water to the whole world.''

''Drinking water must be available for every inhabitant of our planet as soon as possible as water is a key for development and peace,'' he said.

Mestrallet now goes even beyond that. He condemns the privatisation of water, because ''it forces the poorest of the world to pay twice for water.''

''When water is privatised, the enterprises that take over the water supply don't invest in the renewal of the infrastructure,'' he explains.

"That worsens the quality of water supplied - and additionally, the prices increase."

Therefore, Mestrallet says, "co-operation between the private sector and the state is the best solution to manage water." The infrastructure should remain in public hands, and only the service should be privatised, he adds.

Suez has been following this strategy in Santiago de Chile, La Paz, Bolivia, in Mexico City, in New Delhi, Gaza, in Palestine, and Amman, Jordan.

Critics of the privatisation of water recall, however, that Suez - Mestrallet's company - along with Vivendi, form part of the World Water Council (WWC), which, together with international institutions such as the World Bank, has been advocating precisely that: the privatisation of water.

Ricardo Petrella, professor at the University of Louvain, Belgium, and one of the world's leading researchers on the subject, recalls that the World Forum on Water, that took place in the Dutch city of The Hague in March 2000, and organised by the WWC, overtly proposed the commercialisation of water through a world wide private oligopoly.

This global oligopoly already exists and is formed by Suez, Vivendi, along with eight other private British and U.S. companies, including Thames Water, Biwater, and others.

"During the 1990s, an international general staff on water was established around the WWC, in which the private multinational enterprises belonging to this oligopoly are represented," Petrella said.

"This means that the international committee that studies the global problem of water is at the same time partially controlled by the companies that eventually would profit from the solutions the committee proposes," Petrella added.

Petrella recalled that the so called "integrated water resources management" proposed by the WWC strongly advocates "handling water as just another merchandise, whose just price can only be set by the market."

Another critic of the privatisation thesis, Mohammed Larbi Bouguerra, a Tunisian researcher and water expert at the Paris based non governmental organization ATTAC, recalled that the World Bank has even advanced the increase of water prices to force a reduction of demand.

"Of course," Bouguerra said, "an increase in water prices would only force the poorest people to reduce their water consumption. The richest consumers will always have enough money to wash their cars and fill their swimming pools."

According to The World Water Forum of The Hague document access to water was defined as a universal need as opposed to a human right.

"The participants thought that defining the access to water as a human right would restrict the freedom of the private institutions involved in the resource's management," Petrella explained.

In a communique, issued on the celebration of the World Water Day the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) emphasised that access to water has always been a crucial element of any development strategy.

Today, UNESCO said, at any given time, about half the people living in developing countries suffer from water-related illnesses such as diarrhoea, parasitic infections, river blindness and malaria.

"These diseases kill about five million people each year, especially children under the age of five," UNESCO added.

Therefore, UNESCO's Director General Koichiro Matsuura warned that a water crisis is looming, and urged to integrate "scientific, ethical and social sound principles (in the global management of water) to secure a sustainable water world for the generations to come."

UNESCO recalled that the global demand for water has increased more than six fold over the past century - more than doubling the rate of population growth.

This disproportionate growth illustrates the water crisis, UNESCO says: "Without sound management of water resources and related ecosystems, two-thirds of humanity will suffer from moderate to severe shortages by the year 2025," which might lead to new inter state conflicts.

Critics of the privatisation thesis concede that in the past state control over water sources has led to wars. But, on the other hand, the privatisation of water is also related to rampant corruption, the critics said.

As a proof, they recalled the long history of collusion between the French companies managing water, and the country's leading political parties.

Therefore, Petrella said, the solution to the water crisis can only be "to create a new public service managing water beyond national territorial levels, based upon a world contract in which ethical criteria reign over business, to guarantee that the local communities directly define the orientation of water services."

Petrella admitted that this new global contract would only be possible "if there is a strong mobilisation of the people."

CorpWatch India
PO Box 29344
San Francisco, CA 94129 USA
Tel: 415-561-6472 Fax: 415-561-6493
URL: http://www.corpwatchindia.org
Email: india@corpwatch.org

CorpWatch India is a project of CorpWatch "Holding corporations accountable locally and globally"

Water page in CorpWatch India website
rect rect rect rect rect rect rect rect rect
© Waternunc.com 2002