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U.S. Launches Mission to Privatize Water in India

The U.S. Water Trade Mission to India to secure the entry of U.S.-based corporations into the lucrative Indian water market has Indian water activists seething.
 
 
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Despite the failure of private water providers to deliver expected results or improve equitable access to water, the U.S. continues to try and export the idea that private companies are best poised to deliver water in the 21st century. Its latest attempt to do so is the U.S. Water Trade Mission to India, a move that has Indian water activists seething.

In a petition organized by the Peoples’ Campaign for Right to Water-Karnataka, the activists appeal for the mission to leave, noting, “Instead of responding to the basic water needs of people…successive state governments [since] the late 90s have been happily signing up one project or another with international banks and foreign governments to privatize every aspect of their constitutional responsibility of providing clean potable drinking water to all.” In an email sent out by another group, Pani Haq Samiti Mumbai, the mission is a “clear plan to convert basic human need of domestic water into business product and privatize the water distribution and treatment processes presently handled by local public bodies.” The group is organizing a massive protest of the mission on March 3.

The stated objective of the trade mission is to secure the entry of U.S.-based corporations into the lucrative Indian water market, estimated at $50 billion. This mission follows on the heels of years of investment by USAID in water sector reforms that have laid the groundwork for private sector participation.

So, what’s wrong with this picture? The promotion of water markets and the commodification of water will come at the expense of the traditional idea of water as a public good and a natural resource, to be shared by all. In the end, the principles of equity and ecological sustainability will be sacrificed for profits.

Furthermore, the behind the scenes meetings the trade mission is arranging between the U.S. executives and the Indian representatives and officials represent a more fundamental attack on the idea of community control of natural resources. The corporations’ attempts to capture control of water resources for private profit will come at the expense of local populations and the fundamental human right to water, a right recognized by both the United Nations General Assembly and the Supreme Court of India. (In an ironic twist, the UN’s independent expert on the human right to water Catarina de Albuquerque is touring the U.S. this week to identify stumbling blocks to the provision of water here in the world’s richest nation.)

These behind the scenes discussions, which involve little input from affected communities, are far removed from the principles of democracy and transparency that the U.S. Government purports to represent globally. Hopefully the demonstration of the Indian people will show the U.S. leadership that local participation in how their water resources are managed is critical to success, and reinforce to them that communities want water safeguarded as a human right, not a commodity.

Wenonah Hauter is the executive director of Food & Water Watch.

 
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