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Global Water Justice Movement Challenges World Bank's attempt to promote privatization of water through UN SDG Agenda

22 April 2016
Meera Karunananthan speaks at the UN

A letter was sent on 22 April to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon by water justice organizations from around the world expressing deep concerns about a new “high-level” panel convened by the World Bank at the United Nations focusing on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goal on water and sanitation. 

The letter was sent in advance of the panel's first meeting scheduled for April 22. So far, the panel is comprised of the nine heads of state of Mexico, Mauritius, Jordan, Senegal, Netherlands, Hungary, Bangladesh, South Africa, and Australia.  

According to a World Bank press release, this panel will focus on “private sector models” and “innovative financing strategies.”[1] We know from past experience that “innovative financing” is code private financing, which according to the World Bank’s own research has had dismal results in the water and sanitation sector.

As noted in the letter, water justice organizations “are particularly concerned about the strong emphasis on private sector participation and private financing given the overwhelming evidence that privatization has resulted in the inability of governments to ensure the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation for all.[2] In spite of the World Bank continuing to aggressively promote private sector participation in the sector, a 2006 World Bank report concluded: “PPI [private participation in infrastructure] is inherently limited in scope for financing urban infrastructure for the wide array of non-commercial infrastructure services cities.”[3]

Over the last two years, as the UN prepared to launch its Post-2015 Development Agenda promising to “leave no one behind” in its new strategy to tackle world poverty, the environmental crisis and social injustice, global water justice organizations banded together to demand that the human right to water and sanitation be a guiding principle for this agenda. More than 600 organizations signed on to a petition calling for explicit language on the human right to water and sanitation and felt vindicated when this language was included in the final declaration released last September despite attempts by powerful states to block our efforts.

The new panel will also receive input from an advisory body or "complementary track" comprised of several corporate lobby groups and proponents of privatization including the World Water Council and the World Economic Forum.

The global water justice movement is calling on the United Nations to prevent attempts to co-opt the development agenda to promote privatization and market-based solutions in order to protect and enable the accumulation of private wealth within the context of the global water crisis.  We are calling instead for a high-level panel that would “ensure the realization of the human right to water and sanitation in the implementation of SDG 6. We also strongly recommend that advocacy on financing and implementation focus on public financing strategies to hold governments accountable for the financial obligations relating to the realization of the human right to water and sanitation.

[1]  Press release: World Bank, United Nations, World Bank Group Launch High Level Panel on Water January 21, 2016

[2]  Public Water For All: Public Financing

[3]  Annez, Patricia Clarke, “Urban Infrastructure Finance from Private Operators: What Have We Learned from Recent Experience?”, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 4045, November 2006.

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