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Mar 15 2007
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NGOs attack EU water aid policy

15.03.2007 - 17:39 CET | By Andrew Rettman

EUOBSERVER / FOCUS - EU aid and trade policy is designed to help
European corporations break into emerging water management markets
instead of reducing the number of 1.1 billion people worldwide who don't
have access to clean drinking water, a coalition of over 60 NGOs has
said in an open letter to Brussels.

"The [European] Commission continues to promote policies and funding
mechanisms to encourage private sector involvement in water and
sanitation services, whilst also pressing these countries to open
markets to multinationals," the statement said, with a street protest in
Brussels planned for 19 March ahead of the UN's World Water Day on 22 March.

The letter contrasted the "good performance" of publicly-owned water
management firms in Brazil, India and Uganda with "under-investment" by
private companies in Bolivia, Guyana and Tanzania in a situation
aggravating a "humanitarian and ecological water crisis" that deprives
the urban poor of a basic "human right."

It also called on the EU to stop using aid cash for private sector
projects, drop requests for water market access in trade talks and
"greatly increase aid and public sector investment" instead. The EU has
signed up to spending €230 million on 97 separate water projects in
African, Caribbean and Pacific countries between 2006 and 2010.

But EU officials dismissed the NGO complaint as overly "simplistic,"
saying it is "essential" to get the private sector involved due to its
huge spending power and the knock-on effect of other corporate investors
following in the footsteps of water company pioneers to bring jobs and
prosperity as well as basic infrastructure to deprived regions.

"You also need a good structure in terms of governance and transparency
[of private water firms]," a commission aid department spokesman said.
"We Europeans are able to deliver this. We have a number of rules that
we apply. The Chinese do it differently. What they have is basically an
extension of their economic agenda - let's be honest."

World Water Day was launched by the UN in 1992 to help generate interest
in global water problems and raise cash for new projects. The run-up to
the day will be marked by a variety of events around the world and in
several EU states including Austria, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands,
Romania and Sweden.

Events will range from political conferences - as in the European
Parliament where aid commissioner Louis Michel will address delegates
from Mali, India, Brazil and Kenya - to sponsored walks by
schoolchildren or an "email conference" on biotechnology at the UN. The
UN's target is to halve the 1.1 billion water-deprived figure by 2015.

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