As the global community commemorates the World Water Day, Water Citizens Network has identified water privatisation as the singular most potent threat to achieving the human right to water on the African continent.
The Network observed that water sector privatisations including those backed by the World Bank, continue to threaten poor households and public health in general in Africa, and will make it impossible for the continent to meet the Sustainable Development Goal 6 which advocates for availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by year 2030. At its core, privatisation shifts the emphasis of water management to maximise profit for private investors, rather than ensuring universal access for all people, especially low-income people. This fundamental disconnect has been exposed by community groups, labor leaders, and even UN experts.
The Water Citizens Network cited numerous examples of water privatisations on the continent that have gone awry and ongoing plans that portend danger ahead. In Ghana, for instance, the World Bank-backed privatisation was rejected wholeheartedly by civil society and labour groups, leading to a momentous de-privatisation in recent years. In Nigeria local activists continue to stave off a World Bank-promoted Public Private Partnership (PPP) model of water privatisation. The Cameroonian government recently pulled out of a failed privatisation arrangement involving the water utility company but may now be considering embarking on another privatisation arrangement using the guise of lack of public financing for the water utility company. Privatisation threat also looms large in virtually every corner of the continent, including in Gabon, Kenya, and Uganda.
Leonard Shang-Quartey, Coordinator of the Network said:
“The theme of the World Water Day commemoration should motivate African governments to take action. It is a reminder that the issue of governance is central to guaranteeing universal access to water. They must therefore reject water privatisation in all its forms and prioritize sustained public funding in the sector to meet people’s water needs”.
The World Water Day has been celebrated since 1993. The commemoration raises awareness about the 2.2 billion people living without access to safe water and sanitation. The theme of the 2021 commemoration, Value Water, addresses issues of environmental, social, and cultural value that people place on water.
On the African continent water is sacred. In households, schools and workplaces, water relates to health, hygiene, dignity, and productivity. In cultural and religious places, it is the connection with creation, community, and oneself. In natural spaces, water can mean peace, harmony, and preservation.
People across the continent and around the world have been leading a movement to confront water privatisation for the danger it poses, and instead advance proven public sector solutions to the water crisis.