Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Debate at Madras Institute of Development Studies

Despite the sizzling heat in Chennai, more than 60 people had come to the Madras Institute of Development Studies for the “Interaction Meeting of Water Movements”.

There was great enthusiasm for the testimonies by Santiago Arconada and Julian Perez from Venezuela and Bolivia, countries with progressive governments with a strong commitment to improve public water delivery. Santiago Arconada introduced Venezuela’s communitarian water process, which he has been involved in since the start in 1999. As part of this new approach, Venezuela’s public water companies works in a close and equal partnership with the water users in the previously marginalised and excluded communities, in order to secure adequate water and sanitation for all. Arconada explained how the successful experiences with democratisation in the water sector have had a profound influence on the strategies for wider transformation of Venezuelan society under President Hugo Chavez, the struggle for “21st century socialism”.

Julian Perez described how after the disastrous experiences with privatisation that caused the water wars in Cochabamba (2000) and El Alto (2005), the new government led by Evo Morales has closed the book on privatisation and instead embarked on developing a new, people-centred model of public water management. Peres, who was part of the coalition of neighbourhood councils (FEJUVE) that kicked out Suez from El Alto, is now an adviser to water minister Abel Mamani, a former FEJUVE leader.

The debate that followed was very lively and well informed, covering issues ranging from the practicalities of how to involve marginalised people in water management to the very real threats of water privatisation in India. Among the cities in most immediate danger are Mumbai, Bangalore as well as other cities in the state of Karnatakka. In Tamil Nadu itself, water has already been privatised in the industrial city of Tirupur. In the next days we will be visiting many of these cities and get a picture how citizens groups are mobilizing in response to these challenges.

The debate at the Madras Institute of Development Studies was covered the next day in the national daily The Hindu (see Public-public partnership in water sector works: expert”).

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