Sara Grusky

The Corporate Takeover of Water in Ecuador

It is a well kept secret that Bechtel won a contract to privatize the water in Ecuador's largest city, Guayaquil, just months after the massive citizen protests that threw Bechtel out of Bolivia.

In October 2000, a local Bechtel subsidiary, Interagua, signed a 30-year concession contract to run the water and sanitation services in Guayaquil. The privatization process was promoted by loans from the Inter-American Development Bank and a guarantee from the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), a World Bank agency.

Now, more than six years later, the residents of Guayaquil are demanding damages from the company for water contamination, an end to water cut-offs, and a return to local, public control.

On Sept. 28 residents in Guayaquil gathered in front of the offices of the undersecretary of the economy to protest the contract. On Oct.18 thousands gathered to proclaim that water is a human right, demanding that their "water debts" are forgiven and that their water services are reconnected. A local advocacy organization, the Observatorio Cuidadano de Servicios Publicos (Citizen's Observatory of Public Services), is seeking to stop the water cut-offs through legal action.

One in six people in the world lack access to clean and affordable water and thousands of children die of water-borne diseases every day. Corporations like Bechtel seek to profit from providing water, often elevating the narrow interests of their companies and its shareholders above social and environmental goals.

Around the world, privatization has led to large rate hikes and poor service, while failing to solve the problem of lack of access, leaving the poorest communities with no water services at all. This is now the situation in Guayaquil, where there are hundreds of documented complaints due to the appalling service of Bechtel's subsidiary, Interagua. The citizens of Guayaquil are demanding accountability from the company. The Ecuadorian regulatory agency ECAPAG recently fined Interagua $1.5 million for contractual violations. Some of the problems that face the residents of Guayaquil include:

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