The thirsty 21 million children

01Aug07

You wouldn’t think that water would be an age discriminaton issue, but it is, according to a new report. According to the BBC (Latin American Young Lack Water) a third of young people in Latin America have not got access to clean water, compared to a quarter of adults. The report, co-written by the UN’s Economic Commission for latin america and the Caribbean and UNICEF, says the problem is a threat to nearly 21 million children. The worst countries are the poorest, Honduras, Bolivia and, surprise, surprise, Nicaragua. Within these countries the black and indigenous communities suffer most.

In the case of Nicaragua around a half of the population do not have access to clean drinking water, rising to 90 per cent on the Caribbean Coast. Given the continuing disaster of Nicaragua’s electricity company, Union Fenosa, which has led to a summer of power cuts throughout the country, water seems safe from privatisation (see our latest newsletter, posted earlier this month). In fact, in a meeting of Central American Vice Presidents in December, the privatisation of water seemed to be ruled out in all the region’s countries.

There are two qualifications. Firstly, there’s privatisation and then there’s management contracts, which are privatisations by the back door. Though government’s deny these are privatising services, handing over management contracts to foreign companies is a well known stepping stone to them getting their hands on public assets. Indeed, Union Fenosa first came to Nicaragua in the 1980s during the Sandinista government, when they were supposedly giving ‘technical advice’. Now, at a municipal level, British company Bi-water is doing the same thing in the North of Nicaragua.

Secondly, it is one thing to keep the assets public. It is another to widen the access to the population. Fortunately many good examples exist in Latin America, particularly at a local government level, where access to water is almost universal because of careful public stewardship. For a rich source of information about opposition to water privatisation and examples of successful public services, see the Transnational Institute’s Water Justice section.

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