SAMWU Press Statement
Tuesday 20th March 2001
The South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) calls for this year's World Water Day to be declared a day of mourning for the millions of people who are sick and dying as a result of not having access to water. The United Nations chose "Water and Health" as the theme for World Water Day on Thursday 22nd March 2001. Nothing could be more ironic in South Africa and across the African continent. People here are becoming more and more unhealthy and dying prematurely because water is now a commodity that only the rich can afford.
Behind the inevitable glib and cheery public relations turning on of taps for the first time on Thursday, lies the shocking reality that worldwide, more than five million people, most of them children, die every year from illnesses caused from drinking poor quality water.
A shocking new survey has revealed that much of the blame for this must be laid at the feet of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). Their water privatisation and full cost recovery policies have been imposed as conditions for IMF loans in over 12 African countries. Negotiated under the IMF's new Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF), the conditions are leading to people being cut off from water more than ever before.
The Africa Policy and Information Centre has reported that water privatisation is making water less accessible and less affordable. People are resorting to unsafe water sources. This is clearly evident in South Africa where the amount of cholera infections is close approaching 70 000!
In Ghana, the result of forcing the poor to pay "market rate tariffs" for water means that most Ghanains can no longer afford water at all. Only 36 percent of the rural population have access to safe water and 11 percent have adequate sanitation within the existing system. Water is also scarce in the capital, Accra. In poor areas of Accra, families are paying almost half the daily wage for 10 buckets of water!
In Angola, there is an agreement that water prices should rise regularly so that the company delivering water can make a "reasonable" profit. In Benin, Tanzania, Guinea-Bissau, Niger and Rwanda water privatisation must be completed by the end of this year for governments to qualify for loans. In Sao Tome and Principe, there will be no further government subsidy of water in the run up to privatisation.
This is clearly ridiculous. In some of the most poverty stricken countries in Africa, unemployed and homeless people who cannot even afford a crust of bread now and then, are expected to fork out one months food money for a few buckets of water! In the last month alone in Cape Town and Johannesburg, thousands of people have been disconnected from water they could not afford to pay for. Even permanently employed workers are being forced to choose between food, electricity or water. This terrible reality makes a mockery of human rights day.
Even in so-called first world countries like New Zealand, people are being forced to take to the streets against the commercialisation of water. Water activists in Auckland will be protesting on World Water Day against the City Council. The demands of the activists are that all commercialisation be stopped and water be restored to the public service after hundreds of families were disconnected from water they could no longer afford.
SAMWU will not allow the tragedies that are unfolding in the rest of Africa to be forced on to us here. Next week, the union will reveal shocking new evidence against the French water multinational that has privatised in Johannesburg, Suez-Lyonnaise. The evidence will show how the company has caused untold suffering to poor people in the other parts developing world.
For comment, please call the Media Officer on 083 7141899
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