Letter of solidarity underscores disproportionately harmful effect water privatization has on people of color around the world
WASHINGTON—On Monday, half of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) issued a letter of solidarity with people in the global struggle to access clean, safe drinking water. In the letter, the signers pointed specifically to efforts to privatize water in Lagos, Nigeria, where the World Bank has pushed privatization as a solution despite its abysmal track record.
The letter was delivered just over two weeks after the Lagos governorship and Nigerian presidency carried out the first peaceful, uncontested transfer of power in the history of Nigeria’s democracy and amid a global movement to defend the human right to water. New leaders have an opportunity to make water access a priority, but have not yet unveiled plans for doing so.
In Lagos, a coalition of labor, human rights and environmental groups have taken to the streets, creating enough pressure that water privatization was a central issue in the recent elections. And, in the US, from Detroit to Baltimore, aggressive collections policies are curtailing people’s access to water, disproportionately affecting communities of color as the letter’s signers note.
“Water is a fundamental building block upon which individual and collective economic prosperity relies,” 23 CBC members declare in the letter. “When people cannot access or afford clean water, the impact on their health and livelihoods is devastating” … “and these circumstances force families to make painful economic choices.”
In Lagos, the African continent’s most populous city, the World Bank has lobbied for decades to privatize its water system. In 2012, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private investment arm of the World Bank, held a conference in Senegal to persuade African leaders to privatize their water systems. The conference featured Manila, Philippines as a model for replication, despite that project’s record of massive rate hikes, quality concerns, and communities with severely limited access. International arbitration recently found that major pieces of the Manila deal violate Philippines law.
In the face of this relentless lobbying from the World Bank, the coalition of Lagosians (to whom the letter is addressed) has raised the visibility of the plans and organized to stop it in its tracks. The campaign has engaged directly with candidates and elected officials on the issue, and marched through the streets of Lagos, but privatization remains a risk. The group’s most recent visit to Washington, DC made clear to members of Congress that what threatens water in Lagos threatens the water of people across the U.S. as well.
“Around the globe, the human right to water is under threat and people of color are disproportionately affected,” said Shayda Naficy, Challenge Corporate Control of Water campaign director at Corporate Accountability International. “Whether it’s the World Bank or Detroit City Hall, this fundamental right must be upheld. The best way to do that is to keep water systems democratically accountable and in public hands.”
The letter of solidarity draws from two US examples, Detroit and Baltimore. By prioritizing revenue over access, much as a private utility would, the cities have raised rates and forced the shut off of water access for tens of thousands, drawing the concern of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Water. As part of a global movement to oppose corporate control of water, spanning from Jakarta to St. Louis, Baltimore recently avoided a potentially perilous contract with global private water corporation Veolia.
Detroit Representative John Conyers, Jr. led the letter with Rep. Karen Bass, ranking member of the Africa subcommittee. It is signed by 23 CBC members, including the Democratic Co-Chair of the Nigeria Caucus Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, former CBC Chairs Reps. Maxine Waters and Emanuel Cleaver, and both CBC founding members still serving in Congress, Reps. Conyers and Charles Rangel.
“We wish to express our solidarity with the people of Lagos, of Detroit, and of cities around the world as they raise their voices in support of public water, participatory governance, and universal access,” the letter states. “Movements like yours provide us with an inspiring example of democracy in action and a valuable contribution to the struggle to secure the human right to water.”
Congressional co-signers of the letter include Alma Adams (D-NC), Karen Bass (D-CA), Corrine Brown (D-FL), Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO), Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Donna Edwards (D-MD), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Chaka Fattah (D-PA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Donald Payne (D-NJ), Stacey Plaskett (D-VI), Charles Rangel (D-NY), Cedric Richmond (D-LA), Robert Rush (D-IL), Marc Veasey (D-TX), Maxine Waters (D-CA), Frederica Wilson (D-FL).
For more information please refer to “Behind the World Bank’s Spin: Private Water’s Failures in Manila and Nagpur” and “Troubled Waters: Misleading Industry PR and the case for Public Water.”