ARE we caught in a choice between public or private sector corruption and mismanagement? Is there a third option? People's protest movements against privatisation have evolved alternative ways to use and distribute water more efficiently.
Cochabamba, Bolivia: After protests in Cochabamba got rid of Bechtel in 2002, the city's water company is being restructured into a transparent public utility with a high public participation. Three of seven members of the Board of Directors are elected representatives. The trade union has a permanent seat on the Board. Local water committees organise supply in the poorest parts of the city.
Savelugu, Ghana: The national water utility supplies water in bulk to communities, which are in turn responsible for pricing, distribution and pipe maintenance. Between 1998 and 2002, the percentage of households with access to safe water increased from 9 per cent to 74 per cent. Guinea worm disease has reduced by over 98 per cent.
Dhaka, Bangladesh: When the employees trade union opposed Dhaka's water privatisation plans in 1997, the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority tried an experiment in which it gave one zone to the union and one to a local private company for a one-year trial period. After a year, the Employees' cooperative's results were much better. So, the water authority gave the private company's contract to the union. Not only water supply, but also revenue collection improved, and wastages reduced.
Santa Cruz, Bolivia: The cooperative run by residents of Santa Cruz in Bolivia, the Cooperativa de Servicios Publicos Santa Cruz Ltda, is considered one of the best-managed water utilities in Latin America. All customers are members of the cooperative and have a right to vote in the general assembly. The cooperative is financially independent and recovers all costs. It charges a lower price for the first 15 cubic metres of water consumed each month and customers who cannot pay are not cut off.
Rajasthan, India: In the desert, people harvest rain in large kundis meant for community use. They are large concrete saucers where water is collected, and this sustains them through the dry season. Besides this, there are several other water harvesting systems as well. Many villages where people maintain their traditional water systems even after the arrival of piped water supply, there was no drinking water scarcity. But villages that did not retain old water systems have acute shortages.
(Source: Reclaiming Public Water: Participatory Alternatives to Privatisation published by The Transnational Institute. Authors: Brid Brennan, Bernhard Hack, Olivier Hoedeman, Satoko Kishimoto, Philipp Terhorst, October 2004. And Dying Wisdom: Rise, Fall and Potential of India's Traditional Water Harvesting Systems edited by Anil Agarwal and Sunita Narain, Centre for Science and Environment.)