Privatizing Potable Water in Mexico
Posted on March 17, 2015 by Alfonso Antonio
The right to potable water, its use, sanitation and reuse, currently being privatized in Mexico. The new law proposed by CONAGUA restricts studies and research.
On March 4th, legislative committees approved the proposal of the National Water Commission (CONAGUA), by the Lower House of Commons on Tuesday, March 10th. This proposal, according to experts, scientists and researchers, heads us to the privatization of water services and the possibility of exercising an inflexible control over the resource.
This despite the fact that last July 28, 2010, through Resolution 64/292, of the United Nations General Assembly, which in summary states: we explicitly recognize the human right to the access to water and its sanitation, reaffirming that clean drinking water and sanitation services of water are essential for the realization of all human rights.
According to researchers who already held a protest on March 5th and assert that the “CONAGUA Act” would inevitably create two problems: first, a ban on studies and research on the water resource if a permit by CONAGUA has not been granted (ie. no research can be concluded unless the outcome conforms to CONAGUA criteria). The second: that the quality of water consumed by Mexicans will be affected by allowing the drinking water to contain all sorts of contaminants (such as arsenic, chloride, lead, manganese, etc.), provided these levels do not exceed the Mexican standards, allowing higher concentrations than the international average.
In another vein, Pedro Moctezuma, researcher at the UAM, points out that the initiative will favor mega-companies with foreign capital, which would manage water systems in terms of guaranteed profits from taxes and fees paid by Mexicans. “Corporations as Veolia, Suez, and United Utilities will profit, which by the global trend of redistributing potable water and its sanitation have already been expelled from 180 cities like Prague, Berlin, Paris, Buenos Aires, and Atlanta. (La ley).” “It would benefit corporations that speculate using projects with high-energy demands and schemes to profit from bringing water services to consumers. Companies such as Higa in the case of Monterrey VI; from toxic mining to fracking, or breweries operating in desert areas, depriving communities of water,” he described in an interview.
Moreover, Anaid Velasco, coordinator of the research area of the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (CEMDA), has stated that Article 73 of the Constitution does not expressly empower Congress to appoint powers at the federal, state and municipal levels.
Around the human right to water, on March 5th academics released a document in which they analyzed the initiative and, among other things, warned that this law will limit the use of water to 50 liters per person daily, an amount that puts health at risk, since a legal analysis by the Mexican Center of Environmental Law and the World Health Organization states that the optimal access representing the lowest risk to the health of people is at least 100 liters per person. So the bill of CONAGUA, while criminalizing scientific research, legalizes pollution of the resource.
The points in dispute around the new “CONAGUA Law” concentrate on eight general issues, the “decanting” refering to the change from a natural basin to an artificial one or one with no natural connection to the primary water source are among the most important. This represents an immediate alteration to the environment; the creation of electrical energy, the acquisition, use and exploitation of property and equipment, as well as the invitation to the private sector to invest in the resource distribution through remuneration which will eventually be paid by the user.
In an essay written by Sergio Sarmiento for the national newspaper, Reforma, he notes that, in politics, those promoting the law, pretending to privatize the provision of services and channeling of wastewater to its final destination, may result in politicized monopolies of water services by large corporations. The leftists, who accuse them of this objective, seek the monopolitización by the State, of which the results are obvious. Although in reality the current monopolitización has a real benefit, perhaps the only one: the indigenous communities maintain the resource as part of their property.
The conclusion so far is that the need for new legislation for the water services issues continues. The service to the user, who is the natural owner of water by human rights, is kept completely in the margin of the possible changes to the law, in a context where the supposed representatives of the people, in reality represent only their personal interests or those of their party.
“We forget that the water cycle and the cycle of life is the same thing.” (Jacques Y. Cousteau)
MEXICO WATER PRIVITIZATION : Formalizing the privatization of water would give large companies broader control of the precious resource to set rates and boost their profits, rather than conserve and protect it for the population. To Sign Avaaz Petition: https://secure.avaaz.org/es/petition/Congreso_de_la_Union_Mexico_Desechen_la_iniciativa_de_Ley_General_de_Aguas_fast_track_1/?cSWrljb
Resource links to articles March 2015:
The Struggle for Latin America’s Water
Global Policy By Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke
The nudge towards water privatization in mexico provides yet another alarming example of how governments, the international financial institutions and private water companies work in concert, with little regard for public well-being. The government of Mexico, along with others in the Global South, is laying the groundwork for the corporate takeover of the country’s water system.
Back in the 1990s, a series of constitutional and legislative changes already started shifting water services to private hands in Mexico. In 1992, for example, the Salinas administration modified the Constitution to allow foreign-based corporations to obtain water contracts and concessions and introduced a new national water law permitting global corporations to invest in Mexico’s water utilities. Later, as part of its national development agenda, the Zedillo government handed over responsibility for water and sewage services to municipal governments.
As a result, the past decade saw 20% of Mexico’s water system privatized. The main corporate players have been the two leading French-based water giants, Suez and Vivendi, along with U.K.-based United Utilities and the Spanish company Agua de Barcelona. For these corporations, the prime targets for takeover have been water services in larger tourist areas and urban centers, leaving the smaller, less populated and less lucrative municipalities to governmental stewardship.
Mexican President Vicente Fox, a former Coca-Cola executive, was even more aggressive in pursuing privatization. In the wake of September 11, his administration declared water a matter of national security. This allows the full powers of the state, including military operations and anti-terrorism measures, to be applied, if necessary, against anyone seen as opposing the government’s plans for restructuring and privatizing the water sector.
Also in 2001, the Mexican government created the Program for the Modernization of Water Management Companies (PROMAGUA) to advance privatization. The World Bank and the federal government provided the $250 million needed to jumpstart the project.9
PROMAGUA coordinates the massive restructuring of Mexico’s water systems by providing generous subsidies to projects and attracting private investment. It facilitates the corporate takeover of public water utilities by authorizing contracts or concessions – valid for periods ranging from five to 50 years – between local governments and private water companies, targeting urban centers with a population of 50,000 or more. By 2002, PROMAGUA had coordinated the signing of agreements with 28 of Mexico’s 30 states, including 687 municipalities encompassing 70% of the country’s urban population.
PROMAGUA established a national data bank to help foreign corporations decide where to invest in Mexico’s water utilities. It achieved this with help from the World Environment Center (WEC), a New York-based non-profit organization that promotes industry-government partnerships and is supported by some of the world’s largest transnationals. The WEC works closely with PROMAGUA to obtain the information and intelligence required for this data bank. At the same time, PROMAGUA set up a center on the outskirts of Mexico City to train people for work in water systems. Co-sponsored by some 40 companies based in France, the center has prepared over 3,000 people for work in Mexico’s revamped and privatized water system. Suez and Vivendi, of course, are among the most prominent and active supporters of PROMAGUA’s training facility.
In addition to government funding, PROMAGUA receives hefty support from international financial institutions including the World Bank, the IDB and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. In 2003, for example, the World Bank announced it would pump $5 billion into Mexico over the following two years. Although earmarked for a variety of infrastructure development projects, a considerable portion of the loan will fuel the corporate takeover of public water utilities through the Bank’s International Finance Corporation.
Mexico City illustrates vividly what happens when for-profit corporations collude to carve-up public water utilities. In 1993, the government divided the city’s water delivery system into four administrative quadrants. Suez and Vivendi each took control of one quadrant, while the U.K.-based companies United Utilities and Severn Trent captured the remaining two. The companies then proceeded to charge Mexico City residents different and, therefore, inequitable water rates. Furthermore, when the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) assumed municipal office and called for a uniform water rate across the metropolitan area, the corporations initially protested. They later relented so as not to risk losing these valuable concessions.
Beyond unjustified billing rates, privatized water services in Mexico City and elsewhere in the country have brought countless other problems. Those residents who are unable to pay escalating water bills face frequent service cut-offs as well as long delays from company officials in dealing with their complaints. In 2001, for example, Vivendi increased its Mexico City rates by 60%, which led to payment defaults and, consequently, service cut-offs mostly effecting poor residents in that quadrant. Flooding has dramatically increased due to neglect of pipes and infrastructure. For the most part, the big water corporations have been unwilling to make substantial investments to improve water infrastructure, though they seem eager to pass on mounting debts to municipal governments.
All across latin america, fierce resistance to this theft of public water is growing. In communities large and small, citizens are taking to the streets, organizing referenda and petitions, and fighting for their right to water. Latin American activists and academics are on the front line of the global water justice movement, speaking at international conferences, protesting World Bank policies and organizing for a binding UN Convention on the right to water.