'Reclaiming Public Water' Seminar Outcomes

Campaigners, unionists and water professionals representing over fifteen countries from across the globe, came together for a seminar in Madrid (Spain) on 17-18 November 2005. This seminar was held as the international water debate enters a new phase. As the growing number of failed and cancelled privatisation projects increases, so does the need to promote improved public water. For groups promoting alternatives to water privatisation, this seminar was a key opportunity for participants to consolidate their common work.

This opportunity for groups to come together follows the publication of the book "Reclaiming Public Water - Achievements, struggles and visions from around the world" (first published in English in January 2005). The book presents wide ranging examples of new progressive models of public delivery and how they have resulted in major improvements in access to clean water and sanitation. Examples include diverse forms of democratisation, citizen's participation and community control which have led to improved accountability, equality and efficiency. The book highlights how new models of co-operation between public water operators and trade unions, community groups and NGOs take the meaning of 'publicness', beyond public ownership. The Madrid seminar built on this understanding.

During the two-days, inspiring testimonies included activists from El Alto and Cochabamba (Bolivia) and their struggle to build new democratically controlled public water companies following failed privatisations. Experiences from Tamil Nadu, India, demonstrated how the democratisation of the state water company offers a way forward which contradicts the World Bank's attempts to impose water privatization on the subcontinent.

The seminar participants decided to launch the 'Reclaiming Public Water' network in order to strengthen the international voice of those promoting improved public water. In co-operation with other initiatives, the network will be an umbrella for information sharing, joint action and linked projects that different groups want to develop and take responsibility for. This includes plans to publish new editions of "Reclaiming Public Water - Achievements, struggles and visions from around the world" in Finnish, Italian, Japanese, and Indian languages. The 'Reclaiming Public Water' network aims to gather and analyse new cases of progressive public water reforms and improvements from around the globe, as part of intensifying the process of 'collective learning'. The www.waterjustice.org website will be relaunched as a resource centre for alternatives to privatisation. Several new working groups were established at the seminar. This included a "Friends of Public-Public Partnerships" working group. Public-Public Partnerships (PUPs) between water operators are a crucial method for achieving positive change in public water management. This working group will promote not-for-profit PUPs as an alternative to the neoliberal Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) approach. A working group on the question of financing public water systems was also set up. This group will undertake research to show how financing public water for all is possible, while privatisation has proven not to leverage the finance needed.

A key strategic focus for all this work is the Fourth World Water Forum in Mexico City in March 2006. Groups from the 'Reclaiming Public Water' network will be present in Mexico City to make the case for public water provision as a viable and attractive option for delivering water for all.

The 'Reclaiming Public Water' network is an open network which is part of and serving the wider global movement against privatisation and for water for all. Progressive public utility managers, unionists, activists and researchers from around the world are warmly invited to get involved.

For more information, contact Satoko Kishimoto: satoko[at]tni.org See also: http://www.tni.org/acts/watermadrid.htm

The seminar took place at the occasion of the launch of the Spanish edition of the book "Por un Modelo publico de agua - Triunfos, luchas y suenos". The Spanish edition was published by El Viejo Topo, based in Barcelona. The book presentations were hosted by El Viejo Topo, Ingenieria Sin Fronteras, Ecologistas en Accion, Fundacion Nueva Cultura del Agua and other organisations in six cities in Spain (Madrid, Barcelona, Zaragoza, Murcia, Huesca, Bilbao and Tenerife).