02 February 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?)

1 comment:

Four Mound Farm said...

Cronyism and nepotism are the rule in Latin America. I would wager Bush did a whole lot of both as well! Time will tell. Cellphone service in S.A. has revolutionized communications since landlines were always hard to get. I can only imagine what water, power, and sewer utilities are like with universally corrupt bureaucrats.

Here in Spokane the utility purveyors are also suspect by the public--especially when they raise rates. There isn't any way to change how people view utility purveyors, but PUDs seem the most transparent. Of course I have to represent City Water, and convince folks to reduce their water use. (Hornblow:) My latest project is to give away indoor conservation kits when people pay their bills in person at city hall. I made up a little handout which explains how much each component saves when installed, and got really nice 2gpm massage showerheads people actually like in the kits with toilet displacement bag, shower timer, low flow aerators for kitchen and bath, and leak detecting dye to check for toilet "silent leaks". The kits are in a nice package with colorful detailed instructions, and I bag them in small bag that has 15 water saving tips printed on it. It's a hit. Now I want to give out hose timers in the spring so we can really start saving water where we waste it most...