Water privatisation management issues

10 October 2012 | Minutes

Sponsor: Asia Pacific Network on Food Sovereignty

Panelists: Titi Soentoro (Aksi, Indonesia), Arze Glipo (Asia-Pacific Network for Food Sovereignty / APNFS, Philippines), Dwi Astuti (Bina Desa, Indonesia), Jahangir Hasan Masum (Coastal Development Partnership / CDP, Bangladesh), Jahangir Hasan Masum, CDP BD, Bangladesh

Facilitator: Don Marquez (Asian NGO Coalition for Agriculture Reform and Development)

This session featured a discussion on the implications of current water policy reforms that have increasingly privatised and commodified water.


Titi Soentoro, Aksi, Indonesia

  • This is not just a simple topic but a question of discourse on water management and water governance
  • Food for thought: water is key for all economic sectors and a core part of development, including food, energy
  • Dublin Principles (1992) set the ground for water as an economic good, rather than a human right; World Bank has an extensive role in water, including trust fund management and the GAFSP (Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme); WB is largest source of external finance water
  • Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) evaluation on water (2010) – environmental restoration is underemphasised, some work declined; NGO critiques especially on dams/hydropower, include problems with resettlement, downstream impacts
  • Instead we need alternative water management – recognising that water is a human right, must have reformed governance of water for equity, transparency, participation and accountability.

Arze Glipo, APNFS, Philippines, on trends in privatisation of irrigation

  • Philippines irrigation system has seen poor performance, for many reasons including poor investments, lack of expansion; increases in productivity are due to greater yields, not expansion in irrigated areas.
  • Started in 1990s Irrigation Management Transfers (IMT) – transfer of responsibilities for operation and maintenance to Irrigators Associations; to reduce government functions; but failed to raise efficiency and failed to empower farmers; Irrigators Association lack capacity and are cash-strapped; wages for maintenance are too low; IMT also fostered corruption and weakened associations of farmers
  • Now projects on Participatory Irrigation Development Project (PIDP, 2009 – 2025); projects include layoffs in public agency, privatisation, water pricing, rehabilitation of infrastructure; this is setting the stage for PPPs and full privatisation
  • PPP as the new main strategy – outsourcing to private providers for irrigation operations and maintenance; but the impact is maybe worsening of food security, higher bankruptcies of rice farmers; plus socialising risk/fiscal burden to get private sector to invest; and possibly monopolies with higher tariffs,

Dwi Astuti, Bina Desa, Indonesia

  • Indonesia, in the 1970s moved from right to water to tradeable water rights – deregulation, privatisation, liberalisation; 1993 moved to water resource management policy; and 2003 to Water Resources Strategy
  • International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) involvement in water privatisation; with loans for infrastructure development
  • Since 2004 a new legal environment has operated, and new strategy pushes for water use reduction in agriculture
  • But Water Users Association (WUA) was a top-down approach that replaced traditional irrigation management; the main problems were: water volume reduction, including excluding small farmers; weakening social institutions and marginalising women
  • Implication: water conflict and worsening food security.

Jahangir Hasan Masum, CDP BD, Bangladesh

    • Integrated water resources management needs water justice, and recognition of human rights to water
    • The trajectory of water policies goes against the desire of developing countries, including sometimes the governments; especially commodification of water
    • World Bank targeting municipal governments now, easier targets for privatisation
    • Water justice – there is a need to get equity back into the systems and involve multiple stakeholders and democratic processes; the history of European water

systems shows that lots of subsidies were involved to build the infrastructure; we need subsidies especially for poor people, a pure efficiency scheme may be economically unsustainable as the poor can not afford water fees

  • There are conflicts of interest between Bank promotion of water privatisation and then IFC profiting from privatisation
  • Instead of PPPs – we need public-public cooperation ie Japan-Bangladesh water cooperation that works together with traditional water management knowledge



Antonio Gambini – WB engagement in the World Water Council is a problem; in Europe we are recognising water as a human right, and moving to de-privatise water (ie French cities, Italian public referendum). In a campaign the thing is what to ask for?

Hao Ming, CANGO – What is opinion of Indonesia’s 2004 water policy?

Zach Hurwitz – we are seeing subsidies in water management infrastructure like dams – but are still having downstream impacts. So how can we improve the social and environmental performance of dams etc?

Dwi Astuti – In Indonesia we tried to have a judicial review to overturn the water policy but this was not successful.

Jahangir Masum – WB involvement in water is newer in Bangladesh, but we have lots of experience of WB involvement in energy sector which caused lots of problems. Their biggest threat is the convening of the donors and pushing them all to work together to prefer private sector. This is not a 2-5 year thing, we are just now seeing some of the results from projects in the 1980s.

Titi Soentoro – How can you introduce the human right to water to the European companies that are working in our countries? A common campaign is good. The push for subsidy reduction is worrying. We need to see them as a tool for the state to fulfil the social contract.

Arze Glipo – we need to intensify our campaign on water as a human right, new areas for financing on big dams are also a worry.

Clare Lauderbach – can you take more cases to the Inspection Panel?

Titi – governments are oppressive meaning people don’t have enough courage to say no – there are implications of being critical; also there is a problem about lack of information; the process is too long and the remedies may not be effective in dealing with resettlement

Dwi – in Indonesia, it is very difficult to get the CSOs, WB and government in the same room together

Peter Chowla – usually WB strategies go for 10 years (through 2013), will you engage in this?

Jahangir – we have a plan on reviewing the Water Resource Group, maybe we can have a strategy meeting

Arze – we need substantial participation for a review of strategies, not a top-down approach; lots of information out there already.