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Aug 26 2008
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Water: common good, public management and alternatives

Alternatives to the privatization and commercialization of water. Public and community water and the human right to water in the Americas.

1.  General Information
Number of days of the seminar – 3
Place: Cochabamba, Bolivia
Date: August 23-25, 2008

2. Participants

Members of the RED VIDA network and some organizations in the Americas that are part of:
       1. Community waters systems
       2. Water cooperatives
       3. Alternative water management organizations
       4. Community and public associations that manage water and/or basic sanitation
       5. Public companies and workers' unions
       6. Groups with direct impact on one of those mentioned above.

3. Objectives

  1. To analyze the current conflicts surrounding the privatization and commercialization of water, in order to construct public and community management in the Americas.

  2. To analyze the challenges and problems of public and community water management in the Americas, based on a discussion about public models under the transversal theme of control and social participation.

  3. To evaluate the struggle for water as a common good in the Americas in a way that is critical and self-critical, analyzing the role of the different governments and evaluating our resistances and proposals regarding public and community-based management of water and public-public, public-community and community-community partnerships.

  4. To encourage public-public cooperation through concrete projects between community systems, cooperatives and public water companies that attend the event.

  5. To encourage and support the development of an organizational and conceptual foundation for collective learning so that public water systems, social organizations and other related actors can, if they wish, continue and further develop the objectives proposed in points 1-4 in the future.

4. Themes

   1.  The reason behind the conflicts and the struggle against the privatization and commercialization of water. There are many experiences of resistance and confrontation against the privatization and commercialization of water at a global level, above all in the so-called and badly named “Third World” countries.  These privatization policies, objects of resistance and confrontation, only seek to benefit major multinationals in their infamous thirst for profit. Pro-neoliberal governments and pseudo progressive governments receive multi-nationals with open arms, giving them all the legal and economic advantages. As a result, the battle against the privatization of water has emerged not only against the privatization of this element in and of itself, but also in terms of what it represents as a maximum expression of capital and neoliberalism.

At the same time, the commercialization of water represents a danger, not only when the shadow of privatization hangs over public or community water companies, but also when these public companies tend towards privatization under the same logic of profit and gain.

   2. a) Our resistance to the privatization of water and the need to view it in a critical and auto-critical manner. Frequently our perspective only focuses on a partial problem, which is the privatization or contamination of water. However, we need a broader and deeper perspective. For this reason, in places where it has been possible to recover the water company in order to maintain or  convert it into a public company, there have been many conflicts related to inefficiency, corruption and other problems. Generally, the principal conflict stems from the fact that it has not been possible to overcome the institutional rationality that gives rise to capital. In fact, it is possible to affirm that it is not enough to have public management efforts that come from below and are transparent unless these are accompanied by more far-reaching transformations.

b) Water organizations and social movements in their local environments and their links to networks at different levels (regional, global) have found ways to strengthen themselves and to exchange ideas and information through associations. These tools are in an initial phase and therefore there are few experiences to date. These are new types of active solidarity, whose main actors are public companies and community systems; therefore these suddenly are not only subjects of conflict, but also transforming subjects that can construct management models and contribute to change in other places.

  3. Current conflicts for water and the new neoliberal privatization attack; Conflicts over water are not limited to a discussion about its distribution, but go beyond that. They include the irresponsible management of water that prioritizes commercial, industrial or agro/industrial uses over human consumption, subsistence agriculture and ecosystems. It is definitely an integral problem that is related, for example, to development polices that have an impact on water and territories and are implemented by many countries, including those that have supposedly progressive governments. Governments prefer to encourage mining exploitation, the construction of dams and mono-crops dedicated to the production of cellulose and/or agro-fuels and deforestation ahead of the protection of life.

Even if the framework policies of a country seem to be moving toward change (Bolivia, Uruguay, Brazil), national policies frequently remain caught in a logic of commercialization and private appropriation (Public-Private joint ventures are an example of this). This structural limitation in the organizational field of water and
sanitation comes from World Bank policies and those international organizations (such as the World Water Forum) that create obstacles and impede progressive policies at every level and scale (from the local to the global).

On the other hand, the multi-nationals and the international bodies that support them, like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, have not relinquished their aim to continue seeking profit from water.
For this reason in many places they are encouraging public-private companies, service contracts, infrastructure built by private firms as well as the monopolization of water sources and their contamination which are all forms of privatizations. This front of attack represents a new danger.

   4. The struggle for water as a common good and for the management of
our own lives; We talk about water as a common good in order to confront the logic of capital that converts everything into merchandise, but also to escape from the logic of a right as an obligation, which may represent progress but does not respond to the understanding of water as a common good for all beings.

We have seen that the struggle for water as a common good requires imagining the world in a different way; it represents recovering the capacity to manage our own lives. The experiences of community-based, traditional, or autonomous management are key to the promotion of an alternative vision. There is a need to strengthen these forms of management that generally represent more democratic and participatory forms of management and control.

5. Round tables/Themes for discussion

  1. Current conflicts surrounding the privatization of water/ the new fronts of neoliberalism.

  2. Challenges, problems of public management: Social control, regulations and laws (constitutional reforms), public companies, redefining what is public, community-based.

  3. Exisiting Public-Public Cooperation/Partnership agreements and possible ones; What has taken place in practice, challenges to progress, forms of cooperation, success, challenges, etc.; How to implement cooperation mechanisms among peoples, communities, and entities to solve the problem of access to water, avoiding the tools of the capitalist model (loans from international financial bodies, commercial consultancies, etcetera)
How to promote, from the social movements, cooperation mechanisms versus Free Trade Agreements.

Welcome to the resource section. Here you can find a wealth of analysis about (alternatives to) privatisation, public-public partnerships, financing public water and other key topics.