The British government is using international aid money to promote the privatisation
of water and sanitation services across the world.
Millions of pounds of aid money each year are being spent on public relations
offensives and on expensive water restructuring advice, with a massive bias
towards privatisation as the only solution.
Aid money is also spent funding privatisation — either by subsidising
private water suppliers and the privatisation process or by tying aid payments
In 2004 alone the government’s department for international development
(DfID) spent £697 million on “technical assistance” or “technical
cooperation” — money that doesn’t pay for a particular project
or contribute to public spending in poor countries, but instead pays for advice.
Because DfID holds the purse strings, the contracts for the consultation are
often not tendered. They go to the British companies that have worked with the
One of the British consultancy firms doing very well out of this situation
is Halcrow. It has played a key role in more aid-funded water privatisations
than any other British consultancy firm, according to research by the World
Development Movement (WDM).
Halcrow-advised privatisations in Bolivia, Trinidad and Tobago, Ghana, South
Africa, India and Sri Lanka have all been reversed or held up by public opposition.The
company has received over £2 million directly from DfID for its consultancy
work since 1997.
Mark Curtis, the director of WDM, told a meeting which brought anti-privatisation
activists together in London last week, “Britain is funding some of the
horrors caused by water privatisation around the world—our taxes are funding
“The next time you hear Tony Blair or Gordon Brown talking about all
the nice things all the aid programmes are doing — building schools and
hospitals and the like — think again.
“In Tanzania our money has funded, among other things, a pro-privatisation
pop song with the lyrics, ‘Our industries are like dry plants and privatisation
brings the rain.’
“With privatisation comes unreasonably high prices. When people can’t
pay, that’s when the cut-offs start.
“Pre-pay water meters, which are illegal in Britain, are being installed
by British companies in other parts of the world.”
New Labour is pushing privatisation despite the fact that over one billion
people in the world lack access to clean water and 2.4 billion are denied basic
Rudolf Amenga-Etego, of Ghana’s National Coalition Against the Privatisation
of Water, said, “All the corporations involved in Ghana have been European.
As citizens of these countries you have a solemn duty to restrain them and stop
the violations in my country.
“People in Britain have a unique advantage — as citizens you can
make specific demands of your government and influence what it does. We need
your support to keep water in the hands of Ghanaian people, to keep it as a
human right, not a commodity for profit.
“To make money out of the poorest people is immoral and unethical. Consultants
sell death to our people. If you trade in water, you trade in blood money.”
Pressure from campaigners has resulted in British company Biwater withdrawing
its tender for the Ghanaian privatisation process.
Omar Fernandez also spoke at the meeting. He is coordinator for the campaign
group Water and Life based in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where a mass revolt threw
out private water companies in 2000 .
He said,“The transnational companies have now lodged a court case in
Washington against the Bolivian state.
“People in the US began an international campaign that has been very
helpful to us.
“Thanks to their campaigning work and their pressure, Bechtel and Edison
now want to withdraw their case from the World Bank’s court.”