Letter of solidarity underscores disproportionate effect water privatization has on people of color and low income communities around the world
WASHINGTON—On Thursday, 23 members from the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) issued a letter of solidarity to the Our Water, Our Right Coalition in Nigeria which is leading an ongoing struggle for water access that has been sidelined for years by government attempts to privatize the water system. The letter makes direct connections between the struggle of the people of Lagos and that of people in U.S. cities like Flint and Detroit, Michigan and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The letter comes just one week after a delegation of Nigerian legislators met with members of the CBC. In May, it was revealed that despite years of opposition from people, unions and environmental groups the Lagosian government is moving ahead with at least five water privatization projects that could privatize nearly 60 percent of Lagos’ water system. Some of those projects are slated to advance as early as this month.
The letter of solidarity draws from three U.S. examples: Detroit, Flint and Pittsburgh. In these cities, the prioritization of system finances over access has led to major issues such as raised rates, shut off of water access for tens of thousands, dangerous lead crises and even drew the concern of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human right to water.
“Around the globe, the human right to water is under threat and people of color, low income communities, and people in the Global South bear the brunt and are having to defend their rights in the face of disproportionate impacts,” said Shayda Naficy, Senior Program Director at Corporate Accountability. “Whether it’s at the World Bank or Michigan Legislature, this fundamental right must be upheld. The best way to do that is to keep water systems democratically accountable and in public hands.”
The latest disclosure of privatization plans in Lagos is the largest in years and could involve the same corporation – Veolia – involved in high-profile lead crises in Flint and Pittsburgh and that has a long track record of failure in the water sector around the globe. In Flint, Veolia gave the city’s water system a clean bill of health just months before the lead crisis made national headlines. And while Veolia was managing the water system in Pittsburgh, an unauthorized switch to a cheaper anti-corrosion chemical occurred, which was followed by a dangerous lead crisis the city is still reeling from today.
In Lagos, the African continent’s most populous city, the government, alongside international development institutions like the World Bank, have pushed to privatize the water system for decades. In early May,11 World Bank executive directors visited Lagos. During that meeting, Lagos Governor Akinwunmi Ambode called for the Bank’s support on water projects.
“Privatization is not the answer for Lagos just like it is not the answer for Pittsburgh or cities across the U.S. We call on the Lagos government to end its anti-democratic pursuit of privatization and invest in public solutions.” said Akinbode Oluwafemi of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria. “We thank leaders in the U.S. for their continued support. We must band together to oppose this corporate grab of our water, from Lagos State to Pennsylvania.”
In advancing privatization plans in Lagos, the government is running roughshod over a movement called “Our Water Our Right,” which has specifically demanded the government invest in public water solutions. In 2016, the group released a detailed proposal to address Lagos’ water crisis while keeping it in public hands, but the proposal has been largely ignored by government officials.
The letter is led by Representative Karen Bass (D-CA), ranking member of the Africa subcommittee, and Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN). It is signed by CBC members and CPC members, including Reps. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Frederica Wilson (D-FL), William Lacy Clay (D-MO), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Donald Payne (D-NJ), Stacey Plaskett (D-VI0), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Gwen Moore (D-WI), José Serrano (D-NY), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Michael Capuano (D-MA), Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ).