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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

US legislators flay Lagos water privatisation

Twenty-three members of the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) have expressed solidarity with people in the global community standing in support of the human right to water, with particular mention of the dangers of privatisation of water in Lagos, Nigeria.

Shayo Holloway, managing director of the LSWC, says government is partnering with the private sector and not privatising water. Photo credit: theeagleonline.com.ng
Shayo Holloway, managing director of the Lagos State Water Corporation, insists that government is partnering with the private sector and not privatising water. Photo credit: theeagleonline.com.ng

The solidarity was expressed in a letter signed by about half of the CBC, expressing sentiments which the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Environment (ERA/FoEN) believes underscores “the disproportionately harmful effect water privatisation schemes, including public-private partnerships, have on people of colour around the world, with signatories pointing specifically to efforts to privatise water in Lagos, where the World Bank has pushed privatisation as a solution despite its abysmal track record.”

The letter draws from two US examples – Detroit and Baltimore. By prioritising revenue over access, much as a private utility would, the cities have raised rates and forced the shut-off of water access for tens of thousands, drawing the concern of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Water.

As part of a global movement to oppose corporate control of water, spanning from Jakarta to St. Louis, Baltimore recently avoided potentially perilous contract with global private water corporation Veolia. Detroit Representative John Conyers, Jr. led the signatories with Rep. Karen Bass, ranking member of the Africa subcommittee. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, the Democratic co-chair of the Nigeria Caucus, and Reps. Maxine Waters and Emanuel Cleaver, two former CBC chairs, are also among the influential signatories.

Olabode Oluwafemi of ERA/FoEN (left) in a meeting with some members of the CBC
Akinbode Oluwafemi of ERA/FoEN (left) in a meeting with some members of the CBC

In the US, from Detroit to Baltimore, aggressive collections policies are curtailing people’s access to water, disproportionately affecting communities of colour as the letter’s signers note. In Lagos the World Bank has lobbied for decades to privatise water systems.

In 2012, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) – the private investment arm of the World Bank – held a conference in Senegal to persuade African leaders to privatise their water systems. The conference featured Manila, Philippines as a model for replication, despite that project’s record of massive rate hikes, quality concerns, and communities with severely limited access. International arbitration recently found that major pieces of the Manila deal violate Philippines law.

The letter read in part: “We wish to express our solidarity with the people of Lagos, of Detroit, and of cities around the world as they raise their voices in support of public water, participatory governance, and universal access. Water is a fundamental building block upon which individual and collective economic prosperity relies. When people cannot access or afford clean water, the impact on their health and livelihoods is devastating” … “and these circumstances force families to make painful economic choices.”

Consequently, ERA/FoEN has commended the CBC for its solidarity, describing the action as “timely” in halting the planned privatisation of water in Lagos.

ERA/FoEN Director, Corporate Accountability & Administration, Akinbode Oluwafem,i said: “The solidarity letter from the CBC is an encouragement for anti-privatisation groups to scale up our campaign against policies that prioritise profits over rights. We expect the Lagos State government to halt the privatisation plans and instead defend the rights of the vast majority of Lagos residents that water privatisation will disenfranchise.”

Oluwafemi, who recently visited CBC offices to seek support for the campaign against water privatisation in Lagos promoted by the Lagos State Water Corporation (LSWC), thanked members of the caucus for supporting the campaign by Lagosians to defend their right to a free gift of nature. But Shayo Holloway, managing director of the Lagos State Water Corporation, denied the allegation, insisting that government is partnering with the private sector and not privatising water.

Nonetheless, ERA/FoEN and a coalition of labour, human rights and environmental groups had severally taken to the streets to pressurise the authorities that water privatisation was a central issue in the recent elections.

Supporting the move, Shayda Naficy, Challenge Corporate Control of Water campaign director at Corporate Accountability International, said: “Around the globe, the human right to water is under threat and people of colour are disproportionately affected. Whether it’s the World Bank or Detroit City hall, this fundamental right must be upheld. The best way to do that is to keep water systems democratically accountable and in public hands.”

The CBC members learned recently that the coalition of Lagosians, in the face of this relentless lobbying from the World Bank, have raised the visibility of the plans and organised to stop it in its tracks. The campaign has engaged directly with candidates and elected officials on the issue, and marched through the streets of Lagos, but privatisation remains a risk. The group’s most recent visit to Washington, DC made clear to members of Congress that what threatens water in Lagos threatens the water of people across the U.S. as well.

Congressional co-signatories of the letter include: Alma Adams (D-NC), Karen Bass (D-CA), Corrine Brown (D-FL), Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO), Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Donna Edwards(D-MD), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Chaka Fattah (D-PA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX),Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Donald Payne (D-NJ), Stacey Plaskett (D-VI), Charles Rangel (D-NY), Cedric Richmond (D-LA), Robert Rush (D-IL), Marc Veasey (D-TX), Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Frederica Wilson (D-FL).

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