The privatization of water

Image: Pille Kirsi
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By PEDRO BENEDITO MACIEL NETO*

Privatizing Sabesp is a crime, as was privatizing Eletrobrás, BR Distribuidora and many other public companies or mixed-capital companies

“Access to water is a vital right for the dignity of all human beings” (Audrey Azoulay).

The pocket-paratrooper governor Tarcísio de Freitas returned to the subject of Sabesp's privatization, against what is happening in the world. Honestly, what is this citizen doing in São Paulo? How was it possible that the interior of São Paulo gave victory to a person who had never lived in our state and who knows nothing about the history of our people?

Privatizing Sabesp is a crime, as was privatizing Eletrobrás, BR Distribuidora and many other public companies or mixed-capital companies, which have an undeniable strategic function.

Some records: (i) three out of every ten people do not have access to safe drinking water in the world; (ii) almost half of the people who consume drinking water from unprotected sources live in sub-Saharan Africa; (iii) six out of ten people do not have access to safely managed sanitation services, and (iv) one out of nine people practice open defecation. These global numbers reveal the significant inequalities that exist between and within regions, countries, communities and even neighbourhoods. But it will not be the private initiative that will solve this tragedy.

Worldwide cost-benefit studies have shown that water, sanitation and hygiene services in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, provide spectacular social as well as economic returns compared to their costs, with world average benefit-cost ratios of 5,5 for improved sanitation services and 2,0 for improved drinking water. It is likely that the benefits of improved WASH services for vulnerable groups would tip the balance of any cost-benefit analysis that considers changes in consumer self-perceptions. status society and the dignity of these groups.

This reality is not the object of attention or concern of companies interested in the privatization of water, sanitation and hygiene services, their focus is profit, which is not a sin, but those who defend with shallow and seductive arguments the transfer of these services to private initiative are agents of their interests and not of the public interest.

Was the parachutist Tarcísio de Freitas just another agent of private interests?

Does the outsider know that, according to the National Sanitation Information System (SNIS), based on 2020 data, of the 46,2 million residents of the state, 96,5% had access to the water network system , 90,6% lived in residences with a sewage collection system, 69,6% of the volume of sewage generated in the state was treated, that is, why does he intend to deliver it to Sabesp?

Furthermore, access to water and sanitation is internationally recognized as a human right and human rights cannot be privatized, even more so when more than 2 billion people in the world do not have access to the most basic services and in Brazil around 100 million of people.

Well, let's go ahead.

According to Transnational Institute (TNI), an international research and financing organization that has been working alongside social movements, trade unions and academics for over 40 years, there are 835 cases of resumption of control over public services by local governments worldwide, of which 267 in management from water.

In the period from 2000 to 2017 – with the number of “renationalization” five times higher since 2009 – the remunicipalization of sanitation services occurred mainly in France, where there are 106 cases.

According to TNI, remunicipalization or renationalization has been carried out by politicians of all political party tendencies, which reveals that, in privatization, contrary to its promises, public-private partnerships are beneficial only to lawyers and auditors and not to the public. citizens, who end up paying more for the most essential natural resource for life.

To give you an idea, when Paris remunicipalized water in 2010, costs were immediately reduced by 40 million euros, an amount obtained annually by private operator companies.

The TNI also points out that the municipalist vision, increasingly strong around the world, provides a window of opportunity for citizens and workers to recover democratic control eroded by the logic of privatization over the last few decades in Europe. We don't need to go through this.

Interestingly, at the 8th World Water Forum, businessmen were seen defending solutions that were not successful in other countries where the model has been operating for a longer time.

The United Nations World Report on Water Resources Development, entitled “Leaving no one behind”, explores the signs of exclusion and investigates ways to overcome inequalities. The document was launched in Geneva, Switzerland, during the 40th Session of the Human Rights Council.

In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution recognizing “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right”, and in 2015 the human right to sanitation was explicitly recognized as a distinct right. .

These rights oblige States to act towards achieving universal access to water and sanitation for all, without discrimination, while giving priority to those most in need.

Safe drinking water and sanitation are basic human rights, as they are indispensable to sustain healthy livelihoods and fundamental to maintaining the dignity of all human beings.

International human rights law compels States to work towards achieving universal access to water and sanitation for all, without discrimination, while prioritizing those most in need. Realizing the human rights to water and sanitation requires that services are available, physically and financially accessible, safe and culturally acceptable. “Leaving no one behind” is at the heart of the commitment of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which aims to enable all people in all countries to benefit from socio-economic development and achieve the full realization of human rights.

Care must be taken to clearly differentiate between “water use rights” and the human rights to water and sanitation. Water use rights, which are normally regulated by national laws, are assigned to an individual or organization through property rights or land rights, or through a negotiated agreement between the State and one or more landowners. Often such rights are temporary and may be withdrawn under certain circumstances. Unlike these, the human rights of access to water and sanitation are not temporary, are not subject to state approval, nor can they be withdrawn.

Governments cannot, therefore, turn a human right into a commodity, under any circumstances. When he states that he is going to privatize Sabesp, Tarcísio de Freitas presents himself as a vassal of private interests.

*Pedro Benedito Maciel Neto He is a lawyer and holds a master's degree in civil procedure from PUC SP. author of Reflections on the study of law (Comedy).


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