Page 1




Exasperated ca mpa igners deride absent targets, weak mechanisms and ambiguous definitions.

The recent news f rom Burma about the beating and arrest of student protesters is cause for concern.

The company has been fiercely criticised by people in the best position to know how it operates on the ground.





ACTION FOR GLOBAL JUSTICE. May 2015 | Published By Comhlámh | ISSUE 96

A mural commemorating the 10th Anniversary of Cochabamba Water Wars and a protestor in Rialto. | Photo Credits: Kris Krug and Jamie Goldrick

From Edenmore To El Alto.

How Water Is Transforming How Politics Happens In Our Communities. PATRICK BRESNIHAN Maynooth University


n February, Comhlámh hosted a First We d ne s da y deb a te which put the ongoing resistance to water charges and Irish Water into a global context of popular struggles for water justice. The evening debate ‘From El Alto to Edenmore’ opened with a screening of Muireann De Barra and Aishling Crudden’s documentary, Water Rising. The film follows three protagonists – a family, a doctor and a water activist – as they deal with the everyday politics of accessing water in El Alto, the city that sprawls above La Paz in Bolivia. On the face of it, the comparison between El Alto and Dublin’s Edenmore is not obvious. If we dig a little deeper, however, the comparison becomes instructive. In both contexts the problem of debt and the question of how

water services are to be financed is central. The famous Water Wars that began in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba in 2000 and spread to El Alto a couple of years later were sparked by the privatization of the public water systems. This private contract was a condition tied to a loan from the World Bank. While the Irish government was not forced to privatize the water system as part of the bailout agreement with the Troika, it was obliged to introduce a model of water provision that was self-financing. The result, as we know, is the introduction of water charges. What is given less attention is that further external borrowing will be required to cover the €600 million capital investment required every year up until 2030. This means that the financing of our water services will be increasingly tied to the financial interests of global investors, something that is bound to have a significant impact on how our water services are managed and

them. This doesn’t mean that these who will benefit from the money communities ignore the state – we pay for them. which performs important and A second struggle that has necessary functions – but that they been at the heart of the Bolivian refuse to abdicate their power experience but less so here to a single, centralized relates to democracy entity and in the and power: who decides how our “Decisions over how process reduce water services are our water resources democratic participation to managed and are used and how? managed are not just an occasional As the technical matters to vote. While there documentary be left up to experts is nothing like ‘Water Rising’ or politicians.” this scale of selfshowed, government in communities Ireland, the basic without access to point remains: decisions over how water in El Alto have organized our water resources are used and themselves to dig wells, lay pipes, maintain water systems and decide managed are not just technical matters to be left up to experts or how they should be managed and politicians. for whom. The water justice movement in Even today, these communityIreland should take this important managed water systems refuse lesson from Bolivia and translate it to be incorporated within the into a broader effort to reclaim the public water system because they public good and democratise the recognize that their power lies political system. in coming together in regular assemblies to make collective decisions about issues that affect



he state of São Paulo, Brazil, is currently experiencing a severe water supply crisis. The main source of water catchment in the region, the Cantareira System, was only at 3% capacity last December and the state is experiencing a third consecutive year of soaring temperatures and rainfall patterns well below historic records. The water shortages are affecting the economy of the main city, São Paulo and many city dwellers are having to get by on just 2 or 3 hours of water per day. Some critics say that the present crisis is due to lack of long-term planning and emphasise the economic or political drivers of the crisis, while the government of São Paulo insists that the water supply crisis is being caused by drought. There is a link between the water crisis in São Paulo and the issue of water in Ireland. Both cases show how essential water is to life. Water management must be long-term focused, while providers must be transparent, accountable and guarantee a regular supply of water with no unexpected fees.


Focus 96 May 2015  

The latest edition just arrived back form the printers. Here’s a list of the range of content covered. Patrick Breshihan takes A look at ho...