Saturday, February 15, 2003

Three giant water corporations gaining control
"The growth of three private water utility companies in the past 10 years raises fears that mankind may be losing control of its most vital resource to a handful of monopolistic corporations.

"The private companies are increasingly running up against strong opposition because of the vital nature of water itself and the politics that swirl around it. The most famous example of this is the privatisation in Cochabamba, Bolivia. After Aguas del Tunari, a consortium jointly owned by Bechtel and United Utilities, took control of the city's waterworks in 1999 without any contract bidding, the company announced water rate increases of up to 150 per cent. Manager Geoffrey Thorpe threatened to cut off people's water if they did not pay.

"The contract gave the company control over groundwater and allowed it to close down people's private wells unless they paid Aguas del Tunari for the water. Union leader Oscar Olivera said: "They wanted to privatise the rain." When protests erupted throughout the city of 450,000 in 2000, police and army troops were called in. They killed two people. The government reacted by cancelling the concession. Although the World Bank's external affairs officer for Latin America, Christopher Neal, told ICIJ the bank is not ideological about privatisation, the investigation showed that privatisation is a hallmark of many loan projects."

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