Saturday, 17 November 2007

From Suresh - notes on the AWN conference

Saturday 17 November -

Is it possible to evolve a pan-continental strategy to realize the right to water for all people as a basic human right amongst the different countries of Africa, given the complexities that abound in Africa?

What are the challenges of ensuring adequate, affordable and safe water and sanitation to all the poor in Africa, given the extent to which IFI’s and donors have a hold over governments and their water policies which are not necessarily pro-poor?

In what way could I, from limited experience in India, be able to contribute to the debate, discussion and dialogue on the politics of water and water sector reform in Africa?

These and other questions were dominant in my mind when I set out on 13th November, 2007 from my home in Chennai, South India to Johannesburg, South Africa to participate in the First Annual Conference of the Africa Water Network. At the end of three days of discussion, including a 3 km protest march across Soweto against pre-paid meters, the major emotion in my heart was the sense of relief that there were groups in at least 20 countries in Africa who were actively engaged and involved with the water movement and who were raising important issues of the course of water sector reforms to be taken in Africa.

What was particularly energizing was the stories of successful water management and performance in countries which do not figure in international media like Mali and Kenya. The Savelugu (Ghana) experiment of `Community Water Management’ and the way the community had come forward to negotiate a water scheme with the public authorities underscored the potential for partnering efficient water management between civil society and civil services.

A very touching story highlighting the havoc that can be caused by the imposition of pre-paid water meters came during discussions with a few inhabitants of Phiri township of Soweto whom we met during the procession on 17th November, 2007. Family after family repeated the trauma caused when their charge on water meter ran out, most often at times when they could not even recharge their water cards. Crying children, elderly people, family members with disability – all suffered. One experience was of a stove which burst causing a fire in the house. The family could not put the fire out as there was little water and they had no money to buy fresh water. Neighbours did not also come to put down the fire as they were in similar condition and there was no water. The house reportedly burnt down. We had heard critical accounts about pre-paid meters. Hearing the stories from households in Soweto made real the problems and made us more determined to oppose them.

The issue was made more real when we heard the news that 6 water rights activists were arrested in Mumbai, India for opposing introduction of pre-paid water meters in Mumbai. It made clear one common reality – concerned citizens from around the world need to renew their determination to safeguard water all over the world and fight to ensure that water was reclaimed as a common, public resource!

V. Suresh, Chennai, India.

No comments: