July 12 2006

PRESS RELEASE

Water is a Basic Human Right

THE FIJI Women's Rights Movement supports calls by civil society groups and the Fiji Human Rights Commission against the privatisation of Fiji's water supply.

"Water is a basic human right, and we are very concerned about the possible privatisation of this essential resource," said FWRM Executive Director Virisila Buadromo.

"Globally, experience has shown that privatisation of water DOES NOT work.  Privatisation turns water from a public service into a commodity for profit.  This has serious consequences for the entire population, but for women in particular because they face added burdens of work when they cannot access clean piped water."

In Colombia and the Philippines, when the privatised water service was suspended due to non-payment, women started using contaminated water, which put them at risk of serious illness.  They also spend long hours carrying water, in addition to not being able to cover food, health or education expenses, since they are using that money to pay for the water service.

The privatisation of water in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba resulted in 'water wars' after poor people, who could not afford the hugely increased water bills, rioted in protest.  Eventually, the multinational company that had bought the city's water supply had to leave the country due the civil unrest their profit-seeking had caused.

FWRM says Fiji can learn from the mistakes of the South American and South East Asian governments.

"The Fiji Government must recognise water as a public service and essential human right that cannot be sold for profit under any circumstances," said Ms Buadromo.

"We call on the Government to invest in improving the infrastructure for better delivery of water, without resorting to privatisation."

Civil society groups were moved to speak out on the water privatisation issue following the inclusion of five prominent private sector members in the nine-member charter preparation committee on water and sewage.  The committee, which will decide on the future of water and sanitation services in Fiji, does not include civil society or consumer representatives.

ENDS.