In the May “green” issue of Vanity Fair, Charles Mann exposes how Veolia, a French conglomerate and other “corporate giants” are “scrambling to take over city water systems around the planet, especially in the often polluted and water short developing world.” Veolia is the company that mismanages the sewage collector systems along the U.S.-Mexico border connected to the wastewater treatment plant in the Tijuana River Valley.

The $38 billion French conglomerate has put in a bid to build and operate Bajagua’s proposed treatment plant at a secret location in Tijuana.

In the case of Bajagua, Enrique Landa and Jim Simmons have provided campaign contributions to elected officials (most notably Cheney-Bush, Bob Filner, Brian Bilbray, and Duncan Hunter), among others, to promote its being awarded a $750 million dollar sole source no-bid contract from the International Boundary and Water Commission to build a sewage treatment plant in Tijuana. Since the company has no experience in wastewater management, the project will be “competitively bid” to a large conglomerate with experience in managing projects in dysfunctional Third World cities like Tijuana, in which large corporations such as Panasonic will be able to have their industrial wastewater treated at discount rates courtesy of U.S. taxpayers.

According to Mann, this situation is not unique:

The rise of Big Water is due in part to politicians from wealthy nations twisting wrists in poor national on behalf of influential corporations. More important, though, is the catastrophic failure by governments around the world to provide services so basic to modern life that some activists regard them as human rights: affordable, potable water and safe sanitation….But business cannot provide openness and accountability if the governments to which it answers are closed and unaccountable. Indeed, in such circumstances private enterprise can simply become an unwitting instrument of oppression…

According to Mann, protests over water privatization resulted in campaigns by anti-poverty activists in Ghana, Uruguay, India, Malaysia, the Philippines, and South Africa. He cites the case of Cochabamba, Bolivia, in which citizens carried out violent protests against the Bolivian government for allowing its water partner, Bechtel to raising water rates 200 percent. In China, Veolia is raising water rates so much that the poor can no longer afford to buy safe municipal drinking water. Mann writes about the case of one woman from a poor family in Changzhou:

She was desperate, she said. The government had turned over the family farm to a chemical factory, giving her husband a job in it. But her husband soon lost the job and was out of work. Meanwhile the factory had polluted the family’s well water, forcing the Wus to shift to a newly installed water line from the city. Now no money was coming in, and they couldn’t pay their water bill. Mrs. Wu knew that a foreign company was running the utility. She knew that prices were rising and that this was supposed to curb waste. “I’ve had all that explained to me,” she said. “It must sound good if you’re rich.”

SERGE DEDINA

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