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Corporations Getting Ready to Gobble Public Water Systems

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Tara Lohan

Just weeks ago, activists gathered in Bolivia to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the ousting of Bechtel from the country after the water system was privatized. As the right to water movement grows stronger, advocating for public control of water resources, it seems like the opponent is also gearing up. The Guardian reports:

Private companies are poised for a surge in demand to take over water supplies, despite widespread opposition to privatisation of what is seen as a life-giving public service.

Global Water Intelligence analysts expect the water supply market to grow about 20% in the next five years, and demand is especially strong in North Africa, the Middle East and China, GWI's publisher Christopher Gasson told the Guardian.

Another big growth area is likely to be the US, where "hundreds" of public water authorities thought to be talking to private operators, said Dan McCarthy, president and CEO of the global water division of engineering group Black & Veatch.

In the U.S. tough economic times coupled with a huge decrease in federal funds for water utilities over the last few decades (and especially during the Bush years) has meant that many municipalities are struggling to keep aging water pipes and infrastructure in shape. Private companies are swooping in, hoping to cash in on a deal but so far, privatization has been a nightmare for many of the towns that have attempted it. Food and Water Watch has a detailed report here on their website — but the most common complaints are poor service and higher rates — pretty much a no brainer when you think that companies are serving shareholders and not customers.

The Guardian reports on some of this, but this list of towns and cities who are fighting privatization is big:

Passionate opposition remains however, and not everything is going the private operators' way: officials in Gary, Indiana, in the US, want to terminate their private contract early, claiming they can do the job for half the price; and the concession to supply 2 million residents in central Paris was recently awarded to a public authority, after 25 years of private operation.

The reason why, Maude Barlow sums up well:

"I don't think anybody should be making money from delivering water because it can be done in the public sector on a not-for-profit basis," said Barlow. "No corporation can survive on that basis … You make decisions about life and death because you have to make a profit, and that's the issue here."

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