2 Feb 2009

Cochabamba Update

Activists who oppose globalization and capitalism love to talk about the People's victory in the "water wars" of Cochabamba, Bolivia. Part One of the story begins with the award of a water concession to multi-national companies and ends with the revocation of the contract and "re-municipalization" of the water supply after popular protests and unfortunate conditions made everyone think twice (both sides supported canceling the contracts).

Part Two of the story will not please the activists. (They have probably forgotten about Cochabamba in their haste to find new evils, like corporate water footprints.)

This Alternet article points out that a return to earlier conditions means a return to earlier incompetence and corruption, i.e.,
when it came time for the people of Cochabamba to elect SEMAPA's citizen directors, scarcely 4 percent of eligible voters turned out, and nobody seemed to know why. In a move typical of countries where corruption historically filters through all levels of society, the first elected director filled the company with friends and family and was removed from office by popular fiat in 2005. The second director did much the same and was removed two years later...

SEMAPA continues to suffer from all of the problems that plague public utilities throughout the developing world: unmanageable debt, leakage and infamously poor service. Local researchers now say that, if SEMAPA serves as a model for anything, it's a model of what can go wrong in public water management.
What's the solution? The same thing that works everywhere -- with both private and public water operators -- strong community oversight of the water monopoly, i.e.,
But SEMAPA isn't doing its job, so we have to do it. We [a cooperateive named APAAS] come from the neighborhood, we're self-sufficient, self-managed and autonomous. The cooperatives didn't emerge from an ideological vision, but from a common need."

[snip]

"Every Friday," Condori said, "our workers walk the entire line checking for leaks and clandestine connections. Just two workers check the whole line, every week. We have a 6 percent water loss from leaks. Compare that to SEMAPA's 54 percent. Not bad."
Bottom Line: Profit-seeking companies are not evil. People who serve themselves instead of their people are evil. (Got that Bush?)