Labour tackles Lagos govt over planned privatization of water supply

Reticulation work under Carter Bridge.

Reticulation work under Carter Bridge.

Eluonye Konyegwuaehi

05 March 2015, Sweetcrude, Lagos – ORGANISED Labour has rejected planned by Lagos State Government to privatize water supply in the state and threatened industrial action among others to confront the state government.

Operating on the aegis of Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees, AUPCTRE, labour disclosed that as part of actions to confront the government a mass rally and sensitization of residents of Lagos against the government planned would commence Tuesday, March 10, in Ikeja area and its environs.

The union called on well meaning citizens of the state to rise up against the planned to privatise water supply in the state, warning that “over a billion people today do not have safe water to drink. There is therefore a global water crisis of epic proportions. Globally, national and locally, governments face a tremendous challenge to find the political will to deliver safe and clean water to their communities.”

In a 13-point statement by AUPCTRE President and General Secretary,Adelegan Solomon and Yusuf Zambuk, respectively, said “it has become necessary to inform the public on evil of privatizing one of the most essential God-given resource for mankind though taken for granted, is scarce. Water as you may know cover over 70% of the planet yet safe drinking water is only 3% and is very scarce for an average person in the third world or developing countries like Nigeria. Over a billion people today do not have safe water to drink. There is therefore a global water crisis of epic proportions. Globally, national and locally, Governments face a tremendous challenge to find the infrastructure essential to deliver safe and clean water to their communities. But today, one of the world’s largest water funders the World Bank continues to spend its tremendous resources to provide water, yet making the situation worse rather than better it.

Today, the World Bank is aggressively promoting private water contracts to governments. ’Unfortunately, theses contracts or public “partnership (PPPs)” are just privatization under a new name. The aim is to turn water and sanitation into profit services. This can work for the rich neighbourhoods, where people can afford to pay corporate profits. But it doesn’t work in the slums. Even with government guarantees for corporate profits, these corporations don’t do well at serving the poor. The experience of the past 30 years shows that PPPs in the water sector fail all segments of society: Look at cities that have decided to take back from public hands: In the north, you have Paris, Berlin, Budapest, Atlanta; Buenos Aires in Argentina; Bogota in Colombia: and on our continent: Amman, Bamako, Rabat, Tanger, Johannesburg, Dares Salaam. Jakarta in Indonesia will be next. There are more than 180 re-municipalizations since 2000. This clearly shows that PPPs are failing.

“In Nigeria, Lagos is among the many cities in the global South where investment on water supplies is desperately needed. There is no consensus on where the answer lies in private management, public sector or a combination of both. For the Union and the general public, the answer still lies with public ownership of water in view of its importance. For more than 25 years, Lagosians have been waiting for safe, clean water on a proposed vast expansion of the city’s water supply raising real hope that a British or French Company would lay pipes to the sprawling Ajegunle slum. Regrettably the International Finance Company (IFC) plan was rejected as “appalling” by the Head of the Lagos Water Corporation who said it was unworkable and expensive for the city. Ironically in the following years, donor governments, banks and a successive of European and American business consortia all went to Africa’s largest metropolis with the plans to take water to the less privileged in the society.

“But the companies, banks and donors could not agree with the state authories on how to satisfy corporate demands and raise the billions of pounds/dollars/euros inevitable needed and convince the Nigeria public that international companies would fulfill their contracts and not make unreasonable profits from the sale of what was widely seen as public resource. This disagreement by the companies, banks and other donors means that more than 15 million Lagosians will continue to pay local water suppliers a huge premium for unsafe water. As we speak today, more than 80% of Lagos piped water supplied are thought to be stolen; only 5% of people receive it in their houses, taps are often dry, sanitation is non-existent most of the metropolis and the hospitals are full of people suffering diarrhea and other water related diseases.

Where near-universal access to water has been achieved it has virtually been through a public commitment. The World Bank can still fund major projects like Lagos, but it must drop its ideological commitment to privatization because water privatization deepens poverty.

“As a union, we oppose water privatization because we consider water as God’s given resource and because of the essential role it plays to human existence, it must not be commercialized, because if it is done, the poor cannot afford this essential thing to human life existence. It must be emphasized that water is indispensible human right, but also an economic value. We want to reiterate that defending water is defending humanity, civilization, human viability and life. Therefore, the solution to the crisis facing more than 1.8 billion people in need of safe, clean water today does not lie on privatization of water with its antecedent problems associated rate like hike, sporadic access, unsafe water and infrastructure neglect. Opposing privatization is essential. However, we must stand for strong public services that are transparent, accountable and participatory. It is unacceptable that a country as rich as Nigeria is unable to ensure universal access to water supply and sanitation service.

“We are hereby putting our elected leaders and senior bureaucrats on notice: we, the workers, union members, and our civil society allies will fight to block this privatization. But we won’t stop there, we will continue our campaign to ensure that all levels of government deliver on their commitments and their obligations to all Nigerians, to implement the human right to water and sanitation, to invest our common resources in a transparent and corrupt free manner. If we want a clean-up in Nigeria, there is no better place to start than in the water sector. We condemn in strong terms the intention of Lagos State Government to go ahead with the intent to privatize or commercialize Lagos Water which in turn will further pauperize the down trodden people of Lagos. The Union wishes to call on all well meaning Lagosians, in particular and Nigerians in general to join and support this struggle.”

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