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OWORAC Commemorates World Water Day 2024

On the occasion of World Water Day 2024, observed on March 22, the Our Water Our Right Coalition – a group and network of pro-public water advocates, labour unionists, activists, and communities across Africa – convened a hybrid press conference to commemorate the day and its theme, “Water for Peace’’.

Oluwafemi emphasised that the fundamental right to water should not be leveraged as a revenue-generating tool for state governments. He urged the federal and state governments to recommit to public and democratic management of water infrastructure across all parts of the country.

The OWORAC in a statement delivered at the event by Gbemisola Ahmed, a member of the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporation, Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services (AUPCTRE), said that the theme for the year underscored the critical role of water in maintaining intersectional peace in African communities. Given the continent’s acute water and sanitation challenges, OWORAC questioned the rationale behind African governments’ preference for capitalist and anti-people water financing models.

OWORAC’s anti-privatisation campaign has consistently maintained that financialization through public-private partnerships is a false solution to Africa’s water access problems. This is truly reflected in many case studies from across the globe that have demonstrated the ineffectiveness of privatisation, conclusively showing that treating water as a commercial commodity fails to address the access challenges but instead widens the inequality gaps in society. For instance, the experience of the Niger Republic, which dissolved its 20-year partnership with Veolia—a private water corporation—and opted instead for re-municipalisation due to the inequality gaps in provision of water to urban and rural areas by the former private water manager, illustrates the limitations of PPPs in the water sector.

Oumar Ba, a member of the Syndicat Autonome des Travailleurs des Eaux du Senegal (SATES), a trade union in Senegal also recounted the successful story of de-privatisation in the Mboro community. Situated just outside of Dakar, the capital of Senegal, Mboro initially privatised its water services, entrusting them to a corporation named Aquatech, in hopes of resolving the long-standing issue of water scarcity. However, the community’s water expectations were dashed as they faced increased hardships regarding both affordability and access to water following privatisation. These difficulties soon escalated into tensions and spurred a citizen-led action and demand for Aquatech to leave the community. Fortunately, this worked.

A short documentary presented at the conference featured community members sharing their experiences of improved water conditions following the return to public management. OWORAC highlighted these testimonies to argue that public control and democratic ownership of water services are the only effective means of enhancing water access.

Sandra Ndang, the Advocacy Officer at the African Centre for Advocacy in Cameroon, spoke about the issue of water scarcity and its role in exacerbating the multiple existing tensions within the country during the press conference. She noted that, for a nation already facing numerous political and socioeconomic challenges, the lack of adequate water access adds another layer of complexity to the situation.

Journalists in attendance responded to the issues discussed with questions about the government’s role in a context where citizens are compelled to independently provide for themselves, necessities such as electricity, security, healthcare, and water. A consensus emerged on the imperative for a collaborative, multi-pronged strategy involving activists, community members, and the media to counteract the privatization threats prevalent across the continent.

The conference wrapped up with the presentation of several recommendations for governments throughout Africa. These recommendations called for increased budgetary allocations to the water sector and the implementation of adequate compensation mechanisms for communities suffering from various water-related injustices. Complementing the press conference in Lagos that marked World Water Day 2024, members of the Our Water Our Right Coalition (OWORAC) also organized media briefings, webinars, and youth parliaments across the continent. These initiatives consistently reinforced the message that water is a social good, not a commercial asset.

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