Water privatization is ultimately about profit, not people. Privatization continues to threaten the communities of both Lagos and Flint. Privatization efforts have previously failed in both communities, but resume center stage, offering the path forward for water management.
The history of water privatization attempts in Lagos can be traced to government mismanagement of funds and loans concerning the existing water infrastructure. Following a neoliberal agenda of privatization, the government sat back and watched while the system deteriorated, and then made the suspect claim that they did not have enough funds to maintain the system. However, this is not the reality. A monthly revenue of N30 billion makes funding the public water system very possible. To date no investigation has taken place into any corruption and mismanagement by government officials.
The World Bank’s involvement has also been part of the attempt to privatize the public water system in Lagos. As with many World Bank deals, a $200 million dollar loan was to be conditioned on privatization of the system there. The civil society movement for public water successfully defeated the deal, forcing the International Finance Corporation (IFC) to cancel its proposed agreement with the government. Despite this success, there have been recent murmurings of secret concessioning over some of public water infrastructure.
The situation in Flint follows along similar lines. Here, private interests were pushed onto the community with the emergency management system given almost complete autonomy in decision making. The decision to use the Flint River as the water source over the previous Detroit Water and Sewerage Department was made to balance a budget by whatever means available. The result being that the heavily corrosive and improperly treated pipes leached lead into the water supply. At the time, the private sector was brought in to review the city’s water system but no problems were found. The water corporation Veolia was hired for this task.
Unbelievably, the private sector has now offered its services to fix the problem. Also, a bill that has failed on four previous occasions has been reintroduced by a New Jersey senator. The consequences of its passing would mean companies like Suez and Veolia would be able to access unlimited bond money to push for privatization. [New Jersey is the home of Suez]. An agreement is also currently being sought by private water companies with the city of Flint which poses further threats of privatization of the water system.
Both Lagos and Flint residents are demanding democracy and transparency with this issue. Both communities are resisting the privatization of their water systems. Instead, they expect and are seeking their governments to maintain public control.
Water access is a public right and should not be about private profiteering.