Wednesday, 31 January 2007

Water colonialsim

Last week I met with Pete taylor, who worked for the WLT a few years ago, setting up the Focus on Forests website. Since then Pete has worked with Friends of the Earth, and is now working for the World Development Movement (WDM) on their website. I had a good look at their website, and there are several parts of it which will have resonance with some of my readers -- they certainly struck a chord with me.

Unlike most of the big development agencies, WDM does not recieve large amounts of its funding from DFID, or other government agencies, and consequently is able to criticise, when criticism is justified. The following following link is a fairly alarming report:

The British Government, it appears is spending £30 million on encouraging poor countries to privatise their water companies. With predictions that the next majopr wars will be fought over water resources, this could be viewed as a very cynical attempt to recolonise the poorer nations. Imperial colonisation may have passed into history, but economic colonisation is alive and well -- just look at the spread of CocaCola and Macdonalds. But it is scary when funding ostensibly intended as aid, is used to encourage such economic colonialism. [When it comes to water, the French have achieved in England, a degree conquest which was beyond Napoleon's grasp!]

I confess a total dislike of the very concept of private ownership of resources such as energy and water. They should be a common heritage and managed for the benfit of the commonweal. They should not be used to line the pockets of a few investors and speculators. They are also the prime example of how when profits for the shareholders are claimed to equate with efficiency, other benefits are ignored. Which is easy to do, when you have an de facto monopoly. I have never ever really heard a convincing argument for privatising water supplies, for instance. Our local water companies have changed hands several times, but it's still the same water coming through the pipes, from the same boreholes; the only difference seems to be that different groups of shareholders have taken some of the profits that could have been used to repair the leaks in the system and help conserve water. And how energy efficient is it when French electircal engineers come all the way to East Anglia to repair cabling, because the company is owned by French shareholders? (as happened locally last week). If governments are going to be serious about energy and natural resource conservation, they are going to have to think very seriously indeed about privatisation, because in many cases privatisation of such resources is incompatible with conservation. I recall having the basics of this explained to me in the early 1970s, when I was part of a team working of the Whale Manual for Friends of the Earth. Under any competetive industry regime, it was not 'efficient'to conserve whales. It was in the interests of the investors to extirminate them as rapidly as it was compatible with profit margins, and certainly in the lifetime of equipment used to extirminate them..... but that's another story.

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