Global Policy Forum

Filipino Water Activists Challenge UN

Water for the People Network*
September 13, 2005

The Water for the People Network, a broad alliance of non-government organizations (NGOs) and grassroots-based groups in the Philippines campaigning for people's control over water services and resources, challenges the United Nations (UN) to issue a strong statement against the privatization of water services due to its disastrous impact on the human right to access and use water as the multilateral body prepares for a high-level review of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on September 14-16 in New York.

Among the specific targets identified in the MDGs is to reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. Worldwide, more than 1 billion people are forced to use unsafe sources of drinking water while 2.6 billion people lack basic sanitation, according to a 2004 study released by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF). In the Philippines, the WHO and UNICEF reported that out of a national population of 78.6 million in 2002, 11.8 million people are excluded from drinking water coverage while 21.2 million people are excluded from sanitation coverage.

The MDGs suffers from a problem that is much deeper than the apparent lack of commitment of industrialized countries to meet the MDGs and the slow progress that makes the 2015 UN deadline unrealizable. The more fundamental problem of the MDGs and the most serious threat to the UN campaign to alleviate the social and economic condition of the world's poor is the promotion of the MDGs of the same neoliberal policies such as privatization that have, in the first place, aggravated chronic global poverty and severe inequity.

Privatization grossly violates the people's human right to water because it distorts the provision of water supply and sanitation as a basic service and regards water just like any other commodity that corporations can exploit and profit from. This distortion results in prohibitive user fees and other charges that poor households could not afford. In Metro Manila, for example, the average tariff before the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) was privatized in August 1997 was PhP8.78 per cubic meter. By January 2005, the private concessionaires Manila Water and Maynilad were charging their costumers PhP16.17 and PhP30.19 per cubic meter, respectively. Worse, of the 13 million Metro Manila residents as of 2003, only 9.1 million have water supply and less than 2 million have sewerage connection.

But in spite the plethora of empirical evidence showing that water privatization has not only further marginalized the poor in terms of access to water supply and sanitation but also did not improve the quality of water services, the UN has never issued a categorical denunciation of this neoliberal policy being imposed on many countries by international financial institutions (IFIs) led by the World Bank.

From 1990 to 2004, a total of almost US$42 billion has been invested in the water supply and sanitation sector with private sector participation, based on World Bank data. The Philippines ranked second only to Argentina in terms of cumulative investment with US$5.9 billion or around 14% of the total. Recent developments show that the march towards water privatization in the Philippines will not only continue but will even gain pace. The implementation of President Gloria Arroyo's Executive Order (EO) No. 279, issued in February 2004, is reorganizing and reorienting the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) to facilitate the corporatization and privatization of water districts around the country. For the controversial Maynilad, the Arroyo government did not only refuse to kick out the notorious French transnational corporation (TNC) Suez but is even inviting other foreign companies to take the place of the Lopez family in the failed MWSS west zone concession.

Unless such policies are reversed, we believe that the campaign to provide water for all, especially for the poor, will never be realized. The UN should renounce water privatization and rethink the MDGs to truly reflect the human rights aspiration of the people to have clean, affordable, and efficient water services.



The Water for the People Network is a broad national network that campaigns for people's control over water services and resources. It has more than 100 member organizations from all over the country.



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