By Rebecca Brown.
The Guardian reported last week that Tanzania, one of the poorest countries in the world, won a case against Biwater, a multinational water supplier, in a London tribunal. In 2003, under pressure from the World Bank, Tanzania privatized the water system in Dar Es Salaam, the capital city, in exchange for much needed debt relief. The contract was awarded to a U.K. water company named Biwater.
Within two years, the World Bank’s own findings showed that under City Water Services, the Biwater subsidiary, the city’s water and sewage services had worsened greatly. In 2005, Tanzania took back control of water services in the city. Biwater then sued for breach of contract under the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) within the World Bank and within the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL).
Forced or coerced privatizations by the World Bank have had negative impacts on public utilities across Africa. UUSC partner the Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (TGNP), which works on water and gender issues in Tanzania, has relayed to us their frustration and disappointment in the continuing trend of foreign aid and loans having strings attached, primarily in the form of privatizing public services.
In 2006, TGNP launched a water campaign with the goal of “returning resources to the people.” TGNP’s research exposed that lack of safe, sufficient, and affordable water had created gender-based violence around water accessibility and increased the rate of girls dropping out of school. This was because women and girls are largely deemed responsible for the provision of water in the home.
Seeing that water was such an integral issue in the lives of women in Tanzania, TGNP became involved in analyzing the national budget and funds for the water sector. They successfully campaigned to have a woman appointed as assistant water minister and an increase in the overall allocation for the water sector. Although access to water for all remains a pressing issue in Tanzania, the women of TGNP are satisfied that the power to decide how much water is provided no longer rests with the World Bank or private corporations.
Last week, a London tribunal threw out a case brought by Biwater against Tanzania under the rules of UNCITRAL and awarded Tanzania $7 million in damages and costs. This was a huge victory for Tanzania. It was an initial acknowledgment that water is an essential human need.
When a contract impedes a government in meeting their human-rights requirements to their people, it is essential that international bodies such as the United Nations and other intergovernmental bodies support human rights over corporate profit.
Tanzania still awaits the decision of ICSID, a World Bank body, which is expected in the next few months. Our partners at TGNP, skeptical about the impartiality and fairness of this embedded judicial body, have called for the courtrooms to be “open to the watchful eyes and cameras of the world so that the mayhem of plunder by profit hungry companies of the ‘global village’ can partly be revealed for all.”