Asia is, besides Africa, the continent which will most seriously be affected by the water crisis. The melting of the Himalayan glaciers due to climate change as well as the overuse and pollution of water resources by industry and agriculture, will present the growing populations in Asia with enormous challenges. Kontext TV with Mary Ann Manahan from the Philippines, water expert at the organisation Focus on the Global South, about the situation in Asia, especially in China and in the Philippines. We also asked her what she expects from the earth summit in Rio de Janeiro and about the concept represented there of a „green economy“.
Mary Ann Manahan, Focus on the Global South, Manila
Kontext TV: In view of the Rio+20 summit in Rio de Janeiro in June, there is a lot of talk about green economy and green growth, while critics say that this concept is meant particularly to increase profits for private corporations. What is your position on green economy and green growth and the financialisation of nature?
Manahan: It will really create a lot of problems in terms of shrinking the policy(?) space not only for governments but also for communities to decide how they want their recources to be governed. And i think that this is unacceptable for many of us, who have been struggling against land-grabbing(?) against water-grabbing struggling for the rights of rights to water (?) rights of farmers to have land and a decent life. If you put that into the market, everything will be financialised and everything will be commodified and monetised. At the end of the day it will really be the poor the marginalised communities which include the indigenous peoples, the slum dwellers, the rural poor people and other poor sectors of society, that will suffer in the end. It's i think a new neoliberalism to the extreme and i think the corporate private sector are seeing nature as the last frontier for them to make more profits and to maximise(?) more money. So it's really greed economy, not green economy.
Kontext TV: What are the main problems concerning access to water, water supply in Asia?
Manahan: Many of the Asian governments, including the Philippines, my country, has really a firm belief, misguided belief on the role of market and private sector in providing basic service such as water. We have been the laboratory and guinea-pigs of privatisation experiments for the last three decades. It has failed miserably. In the case of Metro Manila, which is a public water service, was privatised, the distribution was privatised in 1997, Metro Manila is the capital of the Philippines, and the promise back then was it would be, have a more efficient, more distribution system, prices would be lower and it would be good for the general population of Metro Manila. But fasttrack(?) to 17 years, what has this privatisation model or experiment has to say? Well, for one we see a stable increase in water tarifs or water rates, i mean, they skyrocketed from the 1997-level to as much as 800% to 1000% in Metro Manila. And secondly one of our major problems is that in the business plans of these two private water concessioners the poor communities, particularly the urban poor settlers and the informal settlers are not included in their business plans. Just because they're commercially inviable for the two private water concessioners. So they engage in what they call "bulkwater scheme" they sell to the neighbourhood associations and the cooperatives. So that the cooperatives will provide for the communities. So this for us is really (?) on the responsibility to provide pipe connections to households, which are part of their contract, of the original concessionary contract. And for us it's really, the small water service providers, such as neighbourhood associations and cooperatives, that are bridging the gap in Metro Manila. But the other thing related to that is that there are many asian governments are really into promoting extractive industries, such as mining, building hydro powerplants and even building mega(?) infrastructure to provide water for the population as new sources of water for the urban population. And this is what is happening in China and India. For example, China, because of the increasing demand in their key cities, such as Shanghai and Beijing they've built several dams, they linked(?) rivers from the south, so that it can go up to the north and that of course had a big impact on the (?) communities, which are in the south. And the other corollary they met(?) problem to that is that for countries that share waters such Chine with the Mekong and even in Southasia, once a country where the head source of the water is located, like in Tibet, build dams to secure its own water needs, that would have an impact on downstream communities. Not only communities but also states. Thats a potential geopolitical confilict that's already in existence in the region, so that would exacerbate the problem. So, it's a very big problem, I think, it's a very hard issue, I think people will go to war just for water and if we don't abate(?), if we don't establish regional mechanisms that includes people, communities in the decision making process, we would have probably the third world war about water in many of these transboundary communities.
Kontext TV: What are you advocating for and what should be done to prevent what you call water wars in Asia?
Manahan: One of the key things that we are advocating is that for one, first and foremost we should hold our governments, our Asian governments accountable, and we should push them to make good commitments in terms of implementing the human right to water and sanitation. The second thing that we are advocating for is for governments to say no to the international financial institutions conditionality to promote privatisation as only the model of public service provision and resource management in the region, which may evidence as largely failed in the region. But, the other thing that we are advocating for is, a the national level and also at the regional level, is to, for insititutional spaces and policy spaces to be created, to promote alternatives to privatisation and commercialisation, which abounds in the region. I mean there is so many amazing examples of innovative public moral(?) systems and innovative and creative ways to provide water that maintains community control and public control. So we want this to be promoted and we want the state, state public investment and public finance to support this type of alternative, rather than support the outright privatisation. The fourth advocacy that we feel is to be emphasised is to expand and to link the right to water and sanitation to other rights. So that means linking to the farmers struggling agains land-grabbing and water-grabbing, link to the indigenous peoples that are struggling for their right to be recognised and essentially linking to other movements, who have similar issues as in the water issues. Because we can't separate one right from the other, they are so interlinked. And moreso now, because our enemies, i mean the privateers, the big corporations are doing the linkages themselves, based on their own interests and their own belief in the market. I mean, they made the link to food, energy, and water already, i mean, that's what they're talking about in the official world water forum. How to make these new markets for food, energy, and water, which i think is the last frontier for them to continue privatising and earning profits from it.