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3rd Dec 2022

NGOs attack EU water aid policy

  • Water containers being transported in Papua New Guinea. But is EU aid helping people or corporations? (Photo: europa.eu)

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.

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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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