Another unsexy post on de-privatized Argentinian water…

…which, if you’re smart, you’ll read anyway, because one day it could concern YOU. (I’ll tell you why shortly…)

Bob Chapman, of the International Forecaster, writes:

Water is contaminated in some suburbs of Buenos Aires and has been since 1993, when the sewer system and water service was privatized and sold to the French company, Suez.

Last week, Argentina announced it was rescinding its 30-year contract and reinstating government control of the water supply.

Five years ago street protests in the Bolivian City of Cochabamba prompted the state to cancel a water contract with Bechtel Corp., which we have previously reported on. Demonstrations in El Alto, near La Paz, led to the suspension of a contract with a subsidiary of Suez. There have been protests in Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala and Mexico. Last week there were demonstrations demanding the government improve water services without privatizing them.

If nothing else came out of last week’s World Water Forum in Mexico City, it voted a decree stating that governments — not private companies — should hold primary responsibility for providing safe drinking water.

Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela and Uruguay attached a separate statement noting their profound concern "about the possible negative impacts of international investment agreements and free trade."

There is no reason to have private foreign ownership … countries and cities have to get their acts together and run utilities properly and they must be adequately funded.

I’ve seldom seen it put so succinctly.

There are some things the private sector does better than the public; supplying clean, safe drinking water isn’t one of them. When even bottled water is often contaminated and the bottler is under no legal constraint to purify it or even label it as unpurified, you ought to be alarmed at what you are buying by the crate at WallyWorld. Yet most consumers of bottled water have no frickin’ idea that their crystal-clear elixir of life is in fact a potential health hazard!

And now, here’s why the goings-on in Latin America regarding water privatization should concern everybody:

Back in May 2000, a little Ontario town named Walkerton fell victim to a terrible tragedy. Heavy rains swept runoff from a local cattle farm into the town’s wells, and with it, a deadly strain of the bacterium Escherichia coli. The water supply was inadequately protected from this onslaught due to poor management at the local Public Utilities Commission, which in turn resulted from an attempt by the Conservative provincial government to privatize all public utilities, starting with drastic cutbacks to what had, until then, been a fully government-run service. Under the new and inadequate system, two brothers who were tasked with testing and chemically treating Walkerton’s water against deadly pathogens such as E. coli were, in fact, incompetent at their job. Neither was adequately trained; both obtained their certification without being duly tested. Neither was held accountable until it was too late. Seven people died in the outbreak, and more than a thousand others became ill. Some are still suffering from E. coli-related problems to this day.

In other words: A government’s attempt to move the water supply toward a privatized system, resulted in a 19th-century style epidemic at the turn of the millennium. And this happened not in a Third World country, but in a prosperous one that had no excuse for such poor sanitation. But since public health–indeed, all things public, including medicare and environmental protection–had been deemed unsexy by the Ontario Conservative Party under Premier Mike Harris, well…I guess it was just historically inevitable!

But here’s another thing that’s historically inevitable: a vast push of people-power to make sure that what should be public, either becomes public if it’s not, or stays that way if it is. The voters of Ontario became so disenchanted with the Tories as a result of the Walkerton disaster, among others, that they broomed them out of office and voted for the Liberals instead. (It is significant that one major plank of the Liberal platform was the promise of clean, safe, PUBLIC drinking water for all Ontarians!)

But the regressive forces of privatization are only in retreat as long as they’ve been beaten back. And that’s why one has to keep stories like this in mind, and keep fighting that fight.

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