By Julio Godoy
Inter Press Service
March 22, 2002
PARIS, Mar 22 (IPS)
Two major French private companies, Vivendi
Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux, are part of the driving force behind the
controversial privatisation of water world wide, according to the
Vivendi Water calls itself "the world's leading provider of
and privatised water and waste water treatment services and
characterisation that Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux also applies for
While Vivendi claims to have 110 million customers in more than
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
both companies to obtain contracts to supply and treat water in
In recent weeks, Suez obtained contracts in Shanghai, in the
republic of China, and in Senegal and Burkina Faso. Vivendi has
in Northern and Eastern Europe, with several contracts in Poland,
Czech Republic, Germany and Sweden.
And yet, leaders of both firms impassively proclaim that
''water is not a
Gerard Mestrallet, Chief Executive Officer of Suez, said this
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
leaders of the northern world to ''provide water to the whole
''Drinking water must be available for every inhabitant of our
soon as possible as water is a key for development and peace,'' he
Mestrallet now goes even beyond that. He condemns the
water, because ''it forces the poorest of the world to pay twice
''When water is privatised, the enterprises that take over the
supply don't invest in the renewal of the infrastructure,'' he
"That worsens the quality of water supplied - and additionally,
Therefore, Mestrallet says, "co-operation between the private
the state is the best solution to manage water." The
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
Bolivia, in Mexico City, in New Delhi, Gaza, in Palestine, and
Critics of the privatisation of water recall, however, that
Mestrallet's company - along with Vivendi, form part of the World
Council (WWC), which, together with international institutions
the World Bank, has been advocating precisely that: the
Ricardo Petrella, professor at the University of Louvain,
one of the world's leading researchers on the subject, recalls
World Forum on Water, that took place in the Dutch city of The
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,
along with eight other private British and U.S. companies,
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
"This means that the international committee that studies the
problem of water is at the same time partially controlled by the
companies that eventually would profit from the solutions the
proposes," Petrella added.
Petrella recalled that the so called "integrated water
management" proposed by the WWC strongly advocates "handling water
just another merchandise, whose just price can only be set by the
Another critic of the privatisation thesis, Mohammed Larbi
Tunisian researcher and water expert at the Paris based non
organization ATTAC, recalled that the World Bank has even advanced
increase of water prices to force a reduction of demand.
"Of course," Bouguerra said, "an increase in water prices would
force the poorest people to reduce their water consumption. The
consumers will always have enough money to wash their cars and
their swimming pools."
According to The World Water Forum of The Hague document access
was defined as a universal need as opposed to a human right.
"The participants thought that defining the access to water as
right would restrict the freedom of the private institutions
the resource's management," Petrella explained.
In a communique, issued on the celebration of the World Water
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation
emphasised that access to water has always been a crucial element
Today, UNESCO said, at any given time, about half the people
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,
children under the age of five," UNESCO added.
Therefore, UNESCO's Director General Koichiro Matsuura warned
water crisis is looming, and urged to integrate "scientific,
social sound principles (in the global management of water) to
sustainable water world for the generations to come."
UNESCO recalled that the global demand for water has increased
six fold over the past century - more than doubling the rate of
This disproportionate growth illustrates the water crisis,
UNESCO says: "Without sound management of water resources and related
two-thirds of humanity will suffer from moderate to severe
the year 2025," which might lead to new inter state conflicts.
Critics of the privatisation thesis concede that in the past
control over water sources has led to wars. But, on the other
privatisation of water is also related to rampant corruption, the
As a proof, they recalled the long history of collusion between
French companies managing water, and the country's leading
Therefore, Petrella said, the solution to the water crisis can
"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
directly define the orientation of water services."
Petrella admitted that this new global contract would only be
"if there is a strong mobilisation of the people."
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