By ANTHONY IAN CRUZ
Oct. 29, 2007
THE Philippines faces a shortage of clean potable water in the next few years but government is addressing the problem wrongly by relying on privatization, a coalition of non-government organization said.
The coalition, Water for the People Network (W4PN), said the privatization policy has resulted in control of water resources by local private firms and multinational corporations, and in scarcer supply to end users due to unaffordable water rates.
According to the think tank Ibon Foundation, the largest rate increases of Maynilad and Manila Water occurred under President Arroyo’s watch.
From 1997, when the Ramos administration privatized the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, up to 2000 under the Estrada administration, Maynilad water rates rose by 24 percent and Manila Water’s by 19 percent.
Under Arroyo, Ibon said Maynilad rates increased 357.6 percent while Manila Water’s rose by 414.4 percent between August 1997 and January 2007.
“With such a big water rate hikes combined with increases in the price of other goods and services, many poor families could hardly afford water services,” said W4PN.
Ibon said big companies also directly compete with the people for the control and use of available freshwater resources.
“For instance, US mining firm Benguet Corp. is now venturing into the water business and currently holds 65 water appropriation permits issued by government. The permits cover major creeks, springs, and rivers in the municipality of Itogon in Benguet province that communities use for their domestic and agricultural needs. In San Pablo City, Laguna, farmers and residents complain of declining water availability and blame the operation of a bottled water plant by Nestlé Philippines Inc,” said Ibon.
Studies by the W4PN said the world’s second largest multinational water company Suez of France is the foreign operator of Maynilad.
Other big foreign players include United Kingdom’s United Utilities and Japan’s Mitsubishi Corp. which back Manila Water, CGE of France in Clark Field in Pampanga and BiWater of the UK in Subic.
“The Philippines is the only country which allows its national capital region and major economic enclaves to be controlled by foreign players. National security and people’s welfare are undoubtedly put at risk,” says W4PN.
Ibon and W4PN said the privatization strategy is a failure insofar as providing the public sufficient supply of clean water.
“The only viable and long-term solution to the water crisis is the people’s effective control over water systems and resources. People’s control ensures the equitable, sustainable, and rational use of water for the general social good.”
The shortage of potable water is a global problem, according to the UN Environmental Program.
The looming water crisis and the finding that contaminated water has become the single biggest cause of human death and diseases are among the highlights of UNEP’s Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-4) report.
GEO-4, considered the world’s most credible environment report, said 655 million people in 43 Asia-Pacific countries already lack access to safe water due to excessive withdrawals from surface water sources and underground aquifers, pollution by agrochemical firms, domestic sewage and inefficient use.
GEO-4 said governments worldwide must take serious steps to address the looming water crisis as well as many other environmental issues such as climate change, deterioration of fish supply, quick extinction of species, and food inadequacy.
If unaddressed, the crisis of shortages in fresh water supply will become worse by 2025, with 1.8 billion people suffering from “absolute” water scarcity.