afrol.com, 8 February - A review of IMF loan policies in forty random countries reveals that, during 2000, IMF loan agreements in 12 countries included conditions imposing water privatization or full cost recovery. In general, it is African countries, and the smallest, poorest and most debt-ridden countries that are being subjected to IMF conditions on water privatization and full cost recovery.
- Ironically, the majority of these loans were negotiated under the IMF's new Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF), says Sara Grusky from the Globalization Challenge Initiative. The reform was announced with great fanfare in 1999 when IMF officials claimed that the new loan facility would re-focus the IMF's controversial structural adjustment measures on activities that borrowing government's would identify as leading to poverty reduction.
An example is tiny Sao Tome and Principe. The island government has been put under pressure to pursue the implementation of a public enterprise reform through privatization and liquidation of nonperforming public enterprises for which buyers cannot be found. Nine public enterprises will be privatised, including the water and electricity utility and the national airline (Air Sâo Tomé). The objective is said to be "to increase access to safe drinking water through rehabilitation of the waterworks system," according to the IMF. Some 20 percent of the population does not have access to safe water at present, but this number could rise if market prices are set on the service.
Rather than contributing to poverty reduction, water privatization and greater cost recovery make water less accessible and less affordable to the low income communities that make up the majority of the population in developing countries. The alternative is to revert to unsafe water sources or more distant sources.
This is confirmed by Ghanaian activist, Rudolf Amenga-Etego of the non-governmental Integrated Social Development Centre (ISODEC), who was in Washington recently highlighting the implications of having the poor pay "market rate tariffs" for water in Ghana. The World Bank has been pushing decentralisation in Ghana since 1988 and Ghana's Water Sector Restructuring Project is expected to be approved by the Bank's Board of Directors this year. "Where cost-recovery becomes the underlying policy, water will become unaffordable for many poor people in Ghana," Amenga-Etego told the news agency IPS.
The significance of finding such a high number of conditions relating to water privatization and water cost recovery in IMF loans is twofold. First, in the hierarchy of international financial institutions the IMF is at the top. Compliance with IMF conditions enables governments to receive the "seal of approval" that permits access to other international creditors and investors. Thus IMF conditions weigh especially heavily upon borrowing governments.
Second, it is quite common that World Bank loans have, as their first condition, compliance with certain IMF conditions. This is known as "cross conditionality." In the division of labor between the two institutions, it is the World Bank that has primary responsibility for "structural" issues such as the privatization of state-owned companies.
- Therefore, it can be presumed that in every country where IMF loan conditions include water privatization or full cost recovery, there are corresponding World Bank loan conditions and water projects that are implementing the financial, managerial, and engineering details required for such 'restructurings', says Sara Grusky.
In Ghana, civil society has announced its intention to resist the privatisation pushed for by the World Bank. Figures from the Government of Ghana have shown that only 36 percent of the rural population have access to safe water and 11 percent have adequate sanitation within the existing system. Water is also scarce in the capital, Accra. In typical working class areas of Accra such as Medina, it would cost a family 3,000 cedis to use 10 buckets of water a day if prises were to follow market rate tarrifs. Yet, the minimum wage per day is 7,000 cedis.
Also in South Africa, protest is spreading. The South African Anti-Privatisation Forum, a collective of community based organisations and labour unions, has mobilised against the privatisation of local government services, including water. Various strikes over social issues have marked the last year. The recent spread of cholera in South Africa is directly linked to the poor water quality in many working class areas. More expensive water could exclude even more people from clean and safe water.
The table at the right identifies 8 African countries and paraphrases the specific IMF loan conditions relating to water privatization or water cost recovery, as mapped by the Globalization Challenge Initiative. In most of the countries, the IMF conditions require some form of privatization, and in several countries the conditions require both privatization and greater cost recovery.
Sources: IMF, Globalization Challenge Initiative
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