Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Pulling the plug on private water

A little known body at the World Bank is behind the privatisation of water worldwide. Vicky Cann exposes it to public view.

December 1, 2007
4 min read

Never heard of the Public-Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility? Well that’s not surprising. For the past eight years PPIAF has managed to operate in obscurity, funding consultants to advise on how to bring in the private sector to operate public services and build infrastructure in poor countries.

Its none-too-snappy name and low-profile location – tucked away in the World Bank – have meant that few of us have heard of the PPIAF, let alone understood what it is up to. But this has been a mistake. While its expenditure is relatively small in global terms, its influence has been immense.

To take just one sector, water, in 24 countries, from Afghanistan to Zambia, the PPIAF has funded consultants to advise on privatisation options or the legal and institutional changes required for privatisation.

In most of these countries, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund or other aid donors have also imposed water privatisation as a condition in return for debt relief or aid. Most shockingly of all, in 16 poor countries, the PPIAF has organised thinly veiled pro-privatisation PR campaigns, which it describes as ‘consensus building’ projects, to support water privatisation processes.

Workshops, conferences and public awareness campaigns have been organised to persuade parliamentarians, civil society, trade unions and anyone else likely to disagree that privatisation reforms are needed. Indeed, the PPIAF admits that as civil society resistance to privatisation has grown, its consensus building work has increased, just to keep up.

Journalists, too, have been the target of consensus building. In 2000, the PPIAF funded a communications programme for 32 African journalists. As well as a workshop in Durban (themes included, ‘Changing institutions and involving the private sector’), there was an email discussion group, and the group was flown to the World Water Forum in the Netherlands, an event heavily influenced by the water industry lobby.

This year in Malawi, a PPIAF project will design a strategy to ensure ‘communication and participation’ in the reform of two public water boards. And the nature of these reforms? In late 2006, Malawian campaigners saw a leaked cabinet paper that proposed privatisation for the water board in Blantyre. This was no surprise: after all, a previous PPIAF project had recommended leasing the water board to a private sector operator in 2003.

The PPIAF is not just active in Africa. In Paraguay, despite public protest and a parliamentary vote against water privatisation, the IMF is still pushing for a management contract for the main water utility. It has been aided by PPIAF projects in 2000 and 2005.

But the PPIAF’s anonymity is coming to an end. Following a report last year by the World Development Movement and the Norwegian NGO, FIVAS, campaigners now have the organisation firmly in their sights.

And the 12 governments that fund it are coming under increasing pressure to review their support. Already, the Norwegian government has said that it no longer views the PPIAF as a means of solving the problem of access to water for the poor and that it will no longer fund it. Other donors are expressing concern too.

Unfortunately, the UK government is not among them. The UK created the PPIAF in 1999 and by 2008, it will have contributed a whopping £53 million to its activities. The PPIAF is essentially a New Labour creation and the UK’s defence of it may have a familiar ring: ‘The PPIAF does not push privatisation; it supports developing country governments to … harness the full potential of public/private partnerships.’

As anti-water privatisation campaigns gather pace around the world, and further evidence comes to light of the failure of the private sector to connect the world’s poorest people to affordable water, campaigners are getting ready to rebut the spin of the PPIAF. When it held its annual meeting in the Netherlands in May, campaigners were present and watching.

Across the world public water providers are delivering clean water to poor communities at prices they can afford, reinvesting profits and involving communities in managing their own water. These providers need our support. What is needed is faith in the public sector to deliver; support to enable successful public utilities in poor countries to share their expertise with other providers; and significantly more finance for the water sector, to reverse the recent decline in aid.

As for the PPIAF, it is time to pull the plug.

The World Development Movement report on PPIAF can be downloaded from: www.wdm.org.uk/resources/reports/water/downthedrainreport26112006.pdf

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes

Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference

Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki

Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going

A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism