|Promoting a sustainable energy future|
Kenya is changing. The democratic transition in power from Daniel arap Moi’s autocratic, corrupt regime to opposition candidate emeritus Mwai Kibaki has brought the beginnings of a real fight against corruption and a reinvigoration of Kenyan society that had been lost during the stasis and stagnation of the Moi years. However, while Kenya reengages with the international community and develops new and more intimate relationships with international lending institutions (IFI), it has left its citizens’ prone to a new and potent danger. A sweeping and comprehensive agenda of government divestiture from public enterprise, sponsored by the World Bank, has left one of Kenya’s most precious resources in peril. Today, Kenya’s citizens face a privatization and multinational-corporate takeover of their water.
Kenyan civil society groups say that the current IFI-corporate ambition to privatize water is not well thought-out and has not been properly considered in a specific Kenyan context. Privatization in Kenya would not address the huge need for investment in water infrastructure (an insufficiency which weighs predominantly on the poor), as the water corporations are interested mainly in the management of systems already installed through public funds. Statistics cited in support of the case for privatization, which for instance suggest the presence of “adequate” infrastructure to manage, are often fundamentally flawed. UN-Habitat, which promotes the privatization of both public stand-pipes and water and sanitation services even as it admits that privatization seems to have worked better in areas where consumers can pay the costs of privatized services, has said that 80 percent of Nairobi residents have access to water. This limited and flawed statistic, however, does not cover the 60 percent of Nairobi’s population which live in informal settlements. Nor does it take into account the decrepit state of the water delivery system in the huge and impoverished area of Karen. These people who are ignored by such statistics are exactly those who will suffer under privatization.
The water situation in Kenya is dire and at least deserves an honest assessment. Only 14 percent of households have water piped into the house or have an outdoor tap. Over 30 percent of people reported risking disease to procure water from rivers and damns. Eighty-eight percent of people believe women are solely responsible for obtaining water each day, and 22 percent of those women must spend more than two hours per day fetching water. Perhaps the most disturbing statistic is that the uncounted urban poor mentioned above must pay highly elevated rates to private suppliers for often contaminated water where authorities have not succeeded in providing service. In the prominent and expansive slum of Kibera, destitute residents pay five to 20 times what US consumers pay for their water.
In 1999, responding to Kenya’s water woes, Parliament voted to affirm its country’s water as a human right to its people, an initiative which led to a spirit of citizen involvement with publicly managed and responsive water utilities in order to bring much-needed improvements in services. However, in 2002, the parliament fell into line with the World Bank-administration consensus and changed its tune completely, voting to treat Kenya’s water as just another commodity available for privatization. Although broad coalitions of civil society have risen up to advocate against the privatization and corporate takeover of water, they face an uphill battle against a well-funded World Bank marketing campaign which targets government decision makers and potential privateers with arrangements for tours, seminars, and conference attendance. As has been observed time and time again across the world, civil society groups and advocate organizations with dissenting opinions are being left out of the process.
The IMF and World Bank push privatization down the throats of thirsty Kenyans with conditionalities on loans and blithe claims of privatization as panacea for inefficiency. However, Kenyan civil society knows that privatization will not bring poor people water. They fear this policy is a pass-the-buck tactic from those without the resolve to address Kenya’s real problems in water infrastructure and service for its poorest citizens. Does Kenya’s new leadership have the courage to extend its progressivism into the recognition of water as a human right for every Kenyan? Or will it dutifully take the World Bank’s hand and auction of the last of one of Kenya’s most precious resources to the highest corporate bidder?
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