World Water Day 2016

Today is World Water Day. The 22nd March is designated as World Water Day by the UN to mark the importance of water and sanitation.

This year’s theme is ‘Better Water, Better Jobs’. 1.5 billion people work in water related sectors and nearly all jobs depend on water and those that ensure its safe delivery. Yet the millions of people who work in water are often not recognised or protected by basic labour rights. The theme in 2016 is therefore focusing on how enough quantity and quality of water can change workers’ lives and livelihoods – and even transform societies and economies.

In Scotland we benefit from a public water service, unlike the rest of the U.K. Recognised trade unions ensure that basic labour rights are protected and we have a high quality water and wastewater provision, delivered at a reasonable cost.

However, we should not be complacent. The privatisers have been chipping away at Scottish Water for years.

Many of our wastewater plants were updated using the ruinously expensive Private Finance Initiative (PFI). Those plants are still managed by private water companies and even the Water Industry Commission has suggested buying them out.

Contractors have been taking over large chunks of Scottish Water. 92% of the capital programme is delivered by private contractors.

This year the Scottish Government awarded a £350m contract to Anglian Water to provide water and wastewater to the Scottish public sector. Anglian is one of a number of English water companies who are happy to take public contracts, but less enthusiastic about paying Corporation Tax.

Finally, on the horizon we have the trade agreements, CETA and TTIP. Both of these put public provision at risk, by allowing corporations to challenge democratic decisions to return services to public ownership. For example, Anglian Water is part owned by Canadian pension funds.

The EPSU was going to press their enormously successful European Citizens Initiative ‘Right2Water’ today. It calls on EU institutions and Member States to ensure that all citizens enjoy this right, that water supply and management be excluded from “internal market rules” and commercialisation, and that the EU increase its efforts to achieve universal access to water and sanitation. Despite huge support for the Right2Water movement, the European Commission has failed to act. An unambitious Communication released by the Commission in 2014 has been followed by two years of silence and no concrete legislation.

The tragic events in Brussels meant today’s event was called off, but the campaign goes on.

World Water Day is an opportunity for us to remember that the clean water and sanitation we take for granted is not available world wide. We should celebrate our public provision, but remain vigilant. The privatisation sharks have not gone away.

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