World Water Day: Privatisation risks leaving people behind!

Roughly 2.1 billion people in the world lack access to clean water. 80% of countries in the global south having insufficient public financing to meet national water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) targets. Official Development Assistance (ODA) for WASH is in decline, leaving a big financial gap to meet Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. Mobilising private sector financing, to help close the gap, is in fashion, but governments and donor countries need to make sure that SDG implementation does not lend itself for privatisation of public and community water supply systems.

In many countries of the global South, communities have self-organised to satisfy their water provision and sanitation needs, when state involvement has been absent. In Latin America there are almost 80.000 community and small public water supply and sanitation organisations providing water to more than 70 million users. These organisations often organise their supply systems on the basis of solidarity and reciprocal relationships. Rather than a romanticised notion, this is the actual condition that endows communities with the social power to protect, derive, treat and distribute water within a specific geographical space and socio-hydrological setting, and to sustain these systems over time.

In addition, community water supply organisations conceive water as a social good with traditional, ancestral, and spiritual dimensions that guide its management and provision. Water fees, which finance the upkeep, are defined communally with the objective of dignifying community members’ lives rather than maximising profits. In some cases, water is provided for free to people who are going through economic difficulties. Sometimes, water ‘fees’ are not paid in cash but through in-kind contributions, such as maintenance work on the system or community work. By building relationships of mutual trust and support, water supply systems strengthen social networks and function as social ‘glue’.

Involving the private sector implies a pressure to develop a business model for water management. This comes with the enforcement of business-like ‘performance standards’ (= profit first!). If these standards are not met, management can be transferred to private companies and the privatisation of water provision is a fact. Under this management model, communities and their members are demoted from being managers of the systems that they constructed to being clients of private water companies, a position that leaves them vulnerable to market rules (no money, no water!) and price hikes that in general accompany privatisation.

Decision-makers need to be aware of possible trade-offs and to recognise the importance of communities as managers of natural resources and water in particular. In order to achieve SDG 6 and to ensure ‘water for all’, ODA spending needs to continue at levels that relieve pressure on public funds for water infrastructure. At the same time, it is important to legally recognise and support community water supply and sanitation organisations and to foster public-public partnerships and public-community partnerships that support communities in improving services.

Leaving no one behind requires a focus on ‘people first’ rather than a private sector ‘profit first’ focus! #WorldWaterDay #LeaveNoOneBehind

This article is based on DIE-GDI The Current Column: Privatisation risks leaving people behind.

Safeguard citizen’s protections: Remove “Innovation Principle” from Horizon Europe

Together with many Civil Society Organisations we call for the immediate and complete removal of the “innovation principle” from Horizon Europe, the next EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, because it is nothing more than an attempt to keep regulation of dangerous products at bay. The inclusion of this so-­called principle in Horizon Europe has far-­reaching implications and poses a threat to human health, the environment and true sustainability. Ahead of the final meeting between the EU institutions to agree the legislative package for Horizon Europe, we strongly urge the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament to act now and delete all references to this dangerous tool.

Why we don’t support the innovation principle:

It has no legal basis. The innovation principle has not been defined in international law or in EU treaties or EU Court of Justice law.

It is an industry-­created tool to undermine key policies and regulations protecting human health and the environment. This principle was created by the European Risk Forum (ERF), a platform representing chemicals, tobacco and fossil fuels industries, among others, to undermine EU regulations including on chemicals, pesticides, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. For example, its supporters in industry have urged that it should be used to weaken the REACH regulation which is intended to regulate dangerous chemicals. Similarly, there have been calls for it to be used to  revent the ban of potent neonicotinoid pesticides, which were banned by EU Member States in May 2018 for their disastrous impact on pollinators’ health.

It is incompatible with the EU’s Precautionary Principle, which is enshrined in the EU treaties and allows regulators, reflecting society’s chosen level of protection, to take action without the need to wait for absolute scientific certainty on the risks of new products. For example, reports have shown it could have prevented serious harm from asbestos. While it is claimed the two principles are compatible, industry proponents of the innovation principle have previously made clear they do not support the Precautionary Principle.

It creates additional measures intended to delay key regulations. The innovation principle would handcuff public decision-­makers and prevent them from regulating potentially dangerous products by forcing all new regulation to undergo costly extra impact assessments before being proposed to EU legislators.

It is unnecessary as a tool to support innovation for society’s benefit. A main claim by supporters of the innovation principle is that it is needed to spur innovation for sustainability. However, this conveniently ignores that not all innovation is good innovation. For innovation to work for the public good, it must not harm people or the planet. It is the role of regulators to guide innovation in the right direction for the good of society.

In fact, it has been shown that regulation spurs innovation. It has helped to bring new, safer chemicals to market and encouraged innovations that shifted away from ozone depleting substances. Furthermore, it is not always the case that new technologies and products are the right solutions for ensure a sustainable future, better policies and regulations play an important role too.

The inclusion of this ‘principle’ in Horizon Europe would set an extremely dangerous precedent for regulation and policy making in the EU. We urge the Council and Parliament to recognise these risks and remove this unacceptable tool.

How Privatisation Undermines the Human Right to Water and Sanitation

Access to safe water and sanitation has long been internationally recognised as a basic human right, essential for life. But when water becomes a marketable commodity rather than a public good, it is inevitable that human rights are undermined.

In September 2018, the United Nations released a groundbreaking report highlighting the detrimental effects of privatisation on human rights and the poorest in society. Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights criticised the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the UN for aggressively promoting the widespread privatisation of basic services, and governments for undermining human rights.

 “States can’t dispense with their human rights obligations by delegating core services and functions to private companies on terms that they know will effectively undermine those rights for some people.” – Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights

For the past four decades, evidence has shown that privatisation of water and sanitation often increases costs for governments and low income households. It has not been efficient or cost effective. It has reduced quality and undermined access, particularly for the poorest and most vulnerable in society.

Philip Alston argues that privatisation ‘is premised on assumptions fundamentally different from those that underpin respect for human rights, such as dignity and equality. Profit is the overriding objective, and considerations such as equality and non-discrimination are inevitably sidelined. Regulatory and other constraints are viewed as obstacles to efficiency, and accountability for other than economic outcomes sits uneasily at best. Rights holders are transformed into clients, and those who are poor, needy or troubled are marginalised…There is no substitute for the public sector to coordinate policies and programmes to ensure respect for human rights. Yet privatisation directly undermines the viability of the public sector and redirects government funds to subsidies and tax breaks for corporate actors.’

Despite the evidence, proponents of privatisation continue to argue that only corporations can fill the funding gap required to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, including for water and sanitation. Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), including blended finance, are falsely promoted as a way for governments to access new capital and mitigate risk. In almost all cases the capital is not new; it’s borrowed from banks at a higher rate of interest than governments would pay. Inflexible contracts often lasting 25-30 years, force governments to prioritise ever increasing repayments over other spending priorities. This can lead to spending cuts in other areas, further weakening the rights of most vulnerable and marginalised. Moreover, as the catastrophic failure of a number of PPPs in the UK has taught us, the risk always remains with the public purse.

In England, water and sanitation have been fully privatised since 1989. Regional water companies, many of which are owned by banks, private equity firms or foreign investment funds, have been criticised for using profits to pay dividends, rather than invest in infrastructure, increasing household bills by over 40 percent above inflation and paying minimal taxes and excessive executive salaries. Research has shown that privatisation in England costs consumers an additional £2.3bn a year, or £100 per household. In Scotland, where water and sanitation is provided by a publically owned corporation, household charges remain lower than in England.

There is an alternative to privatisation. Evidence from 235 cases of water remunicipalisation in 37 countries between 2000 and 2015, shows that quality and publicly provided water and sanitation services are far more accountable, better quality, financially transparent, efficient and cost effective. They are better at meeting the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable in society and respecting the human rights to these services.

Three years into the Sustainable Development Goals, we are already way behind target on providing universal access to safe water and sanitation. Decades of evidence has shown us that rather than providing a solution, privatisation is exacerbating the water and sanitation crisis. Sadly, this is only set to get worse, as climate change continues to limit access to clean water, and the SDGs are promoted as a business opportunity.

To get the SDG progress back on track, we need to reclaim the agenda and make the case for the alternative: only quality, publicly provided water and sanitation services can deliver SDG 6 and the human right to WASH to genuinely leave no one behind. It’s time to join the fight.

EU must seize opportunity to adopt new political vision and give global leadership on sustainable development

Says leading EU CSO coalition SDG Watch Europe in Open Letter to EU Leaders


Urgent need for a new political vision for EU

In advance of the planned European Council summit in December (14th & 15th), a leading European civil society network SDG Watch Europe has issued an open letter to EU Leaders highlighting the urgent need for them to focus on the Union’s future by adopting a strong political vision and showing global leadership on sustainable development. The coalition claims that there are very real political risks linked to the current, almost exclusive, focus of EU leaders on the management of Brexit and associated political issues.

“There is a sense that just like Nero fiddling while Rome was burning, the EU is distracted with Brexit while political conditions are deteriorating across the Union,” says Deirdre de Burca, member of the SDG Watch Europe steering committee. “Our coalition’s broad membership calls on European political leaders to urgently adopt sustainable development as a core political mission of the Union. We believe this important mission could help unite Member States at this critical time, while allowing Europe to assume an important global leadership role.”

Slow pace of EU implementation of the SDGs

“The Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development is an ambitious global agenda which includes 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) that were adopted by all UN member states in September 2015,“ says Leida Rijnhout of Stakeholder Forum for a Sustainable Future and member of the SDG Watch Europe steering committee. ”The EU was an important player in the negotiation of this global agenda” she says. “There were high expectations that sustainable development would move to the top of the EU’s own political agenda and those of its member states. Unfortunately these expectations have not yet been met. NGOs are very concerned about the missed opportunity that this represents for Europe and its citizens.”

SDG Watch Europe and its members claim that the pace of implementation of this global sustainable development agenda by the EU has been “very disappointing”. They point to the fact that a full three years after the adoption of the SDGs, the EU has not yet developed an overarching European Sustainable Development Strategy 2030 to implement the goals.

Link to Open Letter: 

Manifesto for a Sustainable Europe for its Citizens

Despite the European Union’s great legacy and mission, the response of European decision makers’ to the financial crisis, to combating climate change and environmental degradation, to halting growing
inequality and undermining women’s rights, to scandals such as those in our food system and Dieselgate, and to increased migration by closing our borders to those in need, have unfortunately run
contrary to the core values of the EU and have walked back some of the historical gains we fought for.
People feel that the economic and financial interests of the wealthy are prioritised over the common good. We are confronted with the impacts of austerity – growing poverty and inequalities, deteriorating
access to healthcare and (youth) unemployment – while large companies are allowed to refuse to pay fair taxes. Urgent problems go unsolved, such as the climate crisis and air pollution, which kill hundreds of thousands of people. In short, people in Europe are being left behind and not everyone shares in the benefits of the Union.

What kind of Europe do we want?

200+ civil society organisations all around Europe are uniting to bring people together to
discuss the “Europe we want”, and to put this on the agenda of the forthcoming European Parliament
elections. We believe strongly in a European project based on Europe’s core ethical values and
sustainable development: democracy and transparency, social and environmental justice, human rights, the rule of law, equality, and solidarity. Those values must be at the heart of all policies. This means fundamental changes from today. We want European policies, rules and standards that do what they
were intended for: protect and safeguard well-being and health, ensure safety and freedom for people
and protection of the climate and the environment. We want policies that support and serve present and
future generations in and outside Europe.

Today is SDG day!

It’s the 3rd anniversary of the Sustainable Development Goals today. What have we achieved since the world signed this ambitious document to end hunger by 2030 and achieve good quality water and sanitation for all? Are we heading towards a green and healthy planet and healthy lives for all by 2030 or are the goals further away than before?

Around the world many events are taking place to celebrate SDG day. It is a day of stocktaking of progress and set-backs, of good examples and new policies and practices. We put in the spotlight the progress that is being made in India.

To accelerate the efforts to achieve universal sanitation coverage and to put focus on sanitation, the Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi, launched the Swachh Bharat Mission on 2 October 2014. The Mission aims to achieve a “Swachh Bharat” (“Clean India”) by 2019 and put an end to open defecation, as a fitting tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary. Emphasis is placed on awareness raising to achieve behaviour change and create a demand for sanitary facilities in houses, schools and public spaces as well as for waste management activities. Open Defecation Free villages can only be achieved if all individuals and households conform to the use of a toilet every day and every time. Community action and peer pressure on the outliers are key. Appropriate participation of the beneficiary/communities, financially or otherwise in the setting up of the toilets is advised to promote ownership and sustained use, both at the household and community levels.

In 2017 sanitation coverage had increased from 39% to 69%. This was impressive, but efforts were stepped up to reach the, “hardest to reach”, final 30% of the population without sanitation. Swachh Bharat Mission has picked up great momentum this year and it is on the way to achieve the target of ending open defecation by 2 October 2019.

FAMA and WWF8, two different worlds discussing water issues in Brasilia

From 17 to 23 March two large events took place in the capital of Brazil, both dealing with water to raise awareness about (rising) global water problems and to discuss pathways to achieve good quality drinking water and sanitation (Sustainable Development Goal 6).

The biggest event: the 8th World Water Forum (WWF8), organized by the World Water Council, had a participation of over 50,000 people from mostly governments and business, with some academia and NGOs that could afford the trip to Brazil and costs of the event. The biggest Forum in numbers in spite of the fee that ranged from 170 euros for students to 660 euros for participants from OECD countries. It showed that big interests are at stake in water and water resource management, but it also led to a protest letter of NGOs from the Butterfly Coalition to the organisers that too many people and NGOs from Africa and Asia could not participate due to the high costs, stating that “too many are left behind” at WWF8.

Opening ceremony FAMA

The alternative world water forum, in Portuguese ‘Foro Alternatovo Mundial de Agua’ (FAMA), was self-organised by Brazilian NGOs and social movements in protest to WWF8 for its inaccessibility to the poor; qualifying WWF8 as an ‘elitist’ gathering. FAMA took place in the shadow of WWF8 with 4000 participants that paid only a small fee of 50 reais (13 euros) in the Brasilia City Park and at the University Campus. In contrast: WWF8 took place at the big Ulysses Guimaraes Convention Centre and the Mane Garrincha Stadium. But the size and budget were not the only difference between the two Forums. There is a huge ideological gap in between.

Participating at both sides I saw a commitment and passion to help solving the ‘global water crisis’, to achieve SDG 6, fight climate change; that has its first and most noticeable impact in the water sector, and to help realizing the human rights to water and sanitation. It is remarkable that both forums identify the same major problems related to water, but the debates and proposed solutions are like a left-turn at FAMA and a right-turn at WWF8. At the same time there is no clearer evidence that water has become a political issue.

FAMA represents itself as the voice of people. Raising the question: “for whom is lack of water a problem?”, it highlighted the fact that the poor are not participating in WWF8. Debates at WWF8 are primarily held between governments and business. The solutions that they provide, are in the interest of government and businesses, not (necessarily) in the interest of the poor. “False solutions”, according to FAMA participants. Protests at FAMA were not limited towards WWF8; the Brazilian government and Brazilian industries were also frequently under attack for non-democratic, unjust and non-sustainable policies. The main objective at FAMA was for social movements to learn from and support each other in struggles for a more democratic and just management of water, natural resources and land.  In the final declaration of FAMA they stated that the social movements are united in the fight against privatization and financialization of nature. Water is a commons, not a commodity!

At WWF8 the objective was to come up with recommendations to global policy and law makers, increasing the profile of the water sector and its actors and stakeholders. WWF8 ended with a final declaration in which governments and UN institutions were called to increase their commitments to advance SDG 6, to increase finance for water and sanitation and to cooperate with the private sector and NGOs to help solving the crisis. The way to address water problems at WWF8 is by increasing finance for water and sanitation. This finance is not seen as just development aid. According to many at WWF8, there are business opportunities in water and sanitation that are waiting to be captured. The expo at WWF8 provided a space where companies, governments and organisations could meet, organise events to show their business cases or attract customers or investors. For them water definitely is a commodity.

Closing ceremony WWF8

It is a pity that the worlds of FAMA and WWF8 are so close with regards to the goals (clean water and sanitation for all and sustainable water management for future generations), but so far apart on the identification of root causes of the problem and on how to address them. In order to make progress for the poor and people that are ‘left behind’ without access to water and sanitation it is indispensable that the two different worlds meet, respect and learn from each other’s view and cooperate. Because the adage ‘water is life’ counts for all of us.

EuSAIN welcomes new EU Drinking Water Directive: increasing access and improving quality.

This Thursday, the 1st of February 2018, the European Commission has published its proposal for a revision of Directive 98/83/EC (the “Drinking Water Directive”). We welcome this proposal, which places water utilities at the centre of a more holistic approach to managing the provision of drinking water services.

EuSAIN joins ‘Building Change’

‘Building Change: Global Goals at Home and Abroad’ is an initiative of ‘Partos’, ‘Woord en Daad’ and ‘Foundation Max van der Stoel’. It is a follow up from ‘Ready for Change’ in which Dutch Development NGOs aspire to contribute to an ambitious and concrete implementation of the SDGs. This coalition is broadening to the wider Civil Society and advocates for a Fair Dutch government policy that has no adverse impact in developing countries. We want Sustainable Development at home and abroad. ‘Building Change’ puts the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) firmly on the Dutch and European political agenda. We are a coalition of over 40 Civil Society Organisations and we strive to broaden the alliance to knowledge institutes, business and local governments. Together we expect to be able to achieve the SDGs by 2030.

‘Building Change’ works to realise these Goals in a coherent, fair and ambitious manner with a supportive and facilitating government. Participation of other stakeholders like financial institutes, and business is essential. We strive to bring all stakeholders together on three major Sustainable Development themes: Climate, Finance and Trade. We need real break throughs in these areas and we aim for a united voice towards the Dutch government to realise this.

EuSAIN is part of the working group on SDG 6, together with the Netherlands Water Partnership, Gender and Water Alliance, IRC and Partos. SDG 6 is at the heart of the 2030 Agenda and essential to reach all other development goals. Clean Water and Safe Sanitation need to be prioritised in order to reach health for all (goal 3), food for all (goal 2), end extreme poverty (goal 1), achieve gender equality (goal 5) and education for all (goal 4). It is also essential to combat climate change (goal 13), reduce inequalities (goal 10) and reach sustainable cities and communities (goal 11).

MP Corrie van Brenk adopts SDG 6

Corrie van Brenk is the Dutch MP that will monitor and promote Dutch government commitment to SDG 6. She supports the “adopteer een SDG”/ ‘Adopt a SDG’ – campaign by a coalition of Dutch Civil Society Organisations (‘Building Change’) that EuSAIN is part of.  The ‘Adopt a SDG’ – campaign aspires first of all to make the SDGs more visible in Dutch politics. More visibility of the SDGs improves the connection of Dutch policy to the global Sustainable Development agenda. In addition, we hope that it promotes coherence between policy at home and abroad.

Clean Water and sanitation as SDG 6 aims, means that in 2030 everyone has access to safe and affordable drinking water. That women and girls can make safe use of sanitary facilities. But also that the water quality is improved, the discharge of chemicals is addressed and the ecosystems that are water-based, are to be protected and restored.

With the contribution of Corrie van Brenk the ‘Building Change’ coalition works further to achieving a fair and ambitious implementation SDG 6.

We support Corrie van Brenk in her mission and wish her a lot of success!