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Kalinga Times, 26/4 2007
Global water rights activists campaign against privatisation
By Papri Sri Raman
Chennai: "India associates water with sacredness. It understands that water
cannot be for sale!" This was Venezuelan activist Santiago Arconada speaking on
the scope for a mass struggle in India against privatization of the most
important of natural resources.
Arconada was one of the four activists of a global movement for preserving water
as a public asset who met Indian fellow activists here for an interaction this
Of the four, Arconada and Bolivian Julian Perez represented the movement in
Latin America while Olivier Hoedeman from the Netherlands and Tamsyn East from
Britain spoke for environmentalist groups in the West.
All of them represent a network named Reclaiming Public Water (RPW), set up in
November 2005 by different water rights groups. The name is taken from the
title of a book published in January that year.
The book documents the struggles of people in many countries, including India,
to safeguard their water resources and the success stories of public water
systems and their managements. The interaction was held ahead of the release of
Tamil, Malayalam and Hindi versions of the book in India. The Kannada and
Bengali versions are also in the offing.
Speaking for the Indian activists, V. Suresh, president of the Tamil Nadu and
Puducherry chapter of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), warned:
"Soon a stage may come that communities in India too will face large scale
privatization of water. We have already witnessed the Delhi Jal Board struggle,
and there is an attempt to completely privatise water in Mumbai city."
Suresh, who is also Advisor for Tamil Nadu to the Supreme Court Commissioner on
Food Security, added: "The stories of the world's struggles for the right to
water will provide insights and lessons that will help similar campaigns in
Julian Perez is part of the water ministry in Bolivia. He is also in India to
study how the quasi-government Tamil Nadu Water supply and Drainage Board (TWAD
Board) works with local communities.
Perez was part of the struggle in Bolivia's Cochabamba area where people threw
out French company Suez that supplied water as they found that they had to
shell out as much as seven months of their salaries only for drinking water!
The team is scheduled to visit Bhopal and see for itself the Bhopal gas victims'
struggle for clean water.
Olivier Hoedeman, also a researcher with Transnational Institute & Corporate
Europe Observatory, noted how municipalities like Amsterdam assisted
municipalities in Suriname, South African states and in Indonesia to supply
quality drinking water.
"Even in countries like France, where water was privatised as long ago as the
19th century and from where big corporations like Suez come, people are now
demanding a return to local government supply," he said. "The best systems are
the public supply systems."
The book, Reclaiming Public Water, is available online for free downloading
(www.tni.org/books/ publicwater.pdf; www.waterjustice.org) - and new stories of
struggles are added every year online.
It has been translated into more than 12 languages worldwide including Chinese,
Portuguese and Spanish. -IANS
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