By Susan Koppelman
World Water Day has become a day to recommit to the struggle for water justice. For decades local and global activists have been leading successful campaigns to maintain local control of water, to protect indigenous rights and to limit corporate profiteering.
In 2012, the Blue Planet Project issued a report on the Human Right to Water in Palestine that calls on “global citizens [to] continue boycott, divestment and sanctions and other forms of resistance that are proving successful in building a global movement, with the aim of generating a global consensus around defying Israel’s illegal restrictions on Palestinian water and sanitation development.”
At the same time this report was released, water justice activists at the Alternative World Water Forum issued the Marseille Declaration for Palestinian Water Rights naming five points of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) that highlight Israel’s system of water apartheid and corporate profiteering from violations of Palestinian water rights.
Marcela Olivera, veteran of the Cochabamba Water War of 2000 that successfully expelled American corporation Bechtel from Bolivia, is a signatory to the Marseille Declaration and a leader of the global movement to create successful alternatives to water privatization. From Bolivia across Latin America, to France, South Africa, and India, water justice activists are deposing multinational corporations, re-municipalizing their water supplies, and creating new institutions of public oversight. (See Olivera’s submission to the Stop Veolia Zine Project, “The Rising Water in Bolivia and Latin America”).
Water privatization has proven to be a catastrophic failure, resulting in poor and disenfranchised communities denied service while costs rise for those who do receive water. Even as prices rise for consumers, corporations responsible for public contracts cut back on infrastructure maintenance, jeopardizing public health and safety. Public investment is turned into private profit. Yet, with the bullying power of the World Bank, longtime profiteers, such as French multinational corporation Veolia (the largest privatizer of water in the world) continue to spin water privatization, promoting public-private partnerships that directly threaten the poor. Marcela Olivera and water justice activists around the world have been resisting Veolia’s privatization of water for a long time.
Palestinian solidarity activists know Veolia as a main profiteer of the Israeli occupation. Operating the Jerusalem Light Rail that connects illegal Israeli colonies to Jerusalem and the Tovlan landfill where trash from Israel is dumped on stolen Palestinian land in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Veolia further entrenches Israeli colonization. As I report in an article published in Mondoweiss today, Veolia may also be connected to the upsurge of prepaid water meters in the West Bank – a policy promoted by the neoliberal Palestinian Government that devastatingly sets the stage for water privatization in Palestine. (Check out the article to trace the connections more closely.) For these reasons and more, Veolia is a prime target for BDS.
Global campaigns against Veolia have well-established success, already costing the company nearly 24 billion dollars in lost contracts. Locally, Stop Veolia Seattle (SVS) is building a strong campaign with a growing number of organizations to urge the Martin Luther King Jr. County Council to:
- discontinue all contracts with Veolia
- preclude Veolia from obtaining any future contracts with the County
- and to bring Metro Access services in-house to be operated by the County.
The SVS call states, “Because of Veolia’s role in global structures of inequality, as one of the largest privatizers of public services in the world, SVS and the undersigned see Veolia as one window into understanding the larger interconnections of our struggles for economic and social justice both in our local communities and in solidarity with struggles for justice around the world”
“SVS and the undersigned are committed to building relationships at the intersections of labor, disability justice, anti-corporatization, environmental justice, corporate accountability for human rights violations, and solidarity with the Global South.”
Contact SVS for more information about how you and your organization can support this important initiative.
Near the start of the Second Intifada, Veolia quietly ended its contract for supplying water to the Bethlehem and Hebron regions in the south of the West Bank; but the Israeli national water company, Mekorot, which now controls more than half of the Palestinian domestic water supply in the West Bank, is brazenly marketing itself abroad. Relatively new to the game of imperial water privatization schemes, Mekorot now has contracts in Brazil, Argentina, Cyprus, India and Uganda, and is vying for stakes in Greece. But in an amazing precedent, the Netherlands’ largest supplier of drinking water, Vitens, publicly announced in December 2013 that it was severing a contract with Mekorot because “the company concluded that it would be very difficult jointly to develop possible future projects, considering that these projects cannot be seen separately from the political context.” In Argentina, as well, local trade unions and human rights organizations have recently confirmed suspension of a $170 million deal with Mekorot for a water treatment plant.
Building on this momentum, PENGON/Friends of the Earth Palestine, Palestinian BDS National Committee, and the Land Defense Coalition have launched the first International Week Against Mekorot. Struggles against Veolia and Mekorot go hand in hand. Wherever you may be reading this, a simple web search can reveal the best way to get involved with these campaigns in your community.
Susan Koppelman is a Seattle based activist with Stop Veolia Seattle who spent five years living and working in Palestine, first with the Palestinian Hydrology Group and then with the grassroots Palestinian water justice collective LifeSource.