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The race to own India’s water

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Image courtesy 'UN-Water Global Annual Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking Water (GLAAS) 2010', World Health Organization (WHO) and UN-WaterWater privatisation in India today comes in a wide range of what are called “solutions” by the votaries of public-private partnerships. There is water-related engineering and construction (such as earth-moving activities, alteration of river courses, artificial linking of rivers, building of dams and pipelines, etc), water and wastewater services, and water treatment, which affect both nature and communities. What remains outside the ambit of “solutions” – only until the victims can be persuaded to pay – are the impacts of the micro-scale geoengineering. Every impact damages people and the environment. Impacts can be categorised as: ecological (effects on natural ecosystems), social (related to rights of human beings and communities, health, cultural norms, attitudes, belief systems), economic (affecting livelihoods, well-being, and access to basic services) and even legal and institutional.

We are now seeing increasing pressure for private sector development in India – and the rest of Asia-Pacific. Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, an independent research unit concerned with water in India (they are based in Madhya Pradesh) says that this pressure is being mounted mainly by two influential international financial institutions: the World Bank and its regional partner, the Asian Development Bank. The World Bank gives funds, advice, training and technical assistance to governments and the private sector to implement privatisation.

Courtesy, The Economist, special report on water, 22 May 2010Four entities allow the World Bank to undertake various functions. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) lends directly to the private sector and can even purchase equity in private companies. The Public Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility (PPIAF) seeks to improve the quality of infrastructure through private participation. The Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) insures the private sector against commercial and political risk. The International Court for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) takes charge of disputes between investors and states. The Bank also has some other mechanisms that promote its activities in India including Water and Sanitation Program (WSP), Water and Sanitation for Urban Poor (WSUP), Water for Asian Cities (WAC) and others. The World Bank’s funding partners include the JBIC, AusAid, GTZ, USAID, DFID, UN-Habitat and the ADB.

More growth in large cities and towns, and urbanisation becoming a dominant land use pattern in more districts of India mean that the industrial, residential and municipal demands for water are rising quickly. India’s Central Pollution Control Board (an agency of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India) has released its ‘Observation on trend of Water Supply, Wastewater Generation in Cities and Towns’. Here are its main comments and highlights. I’ve left the language as it is – the import is what counts.

Courtesy, The Economist, special report on water, 22 May 2010

From The Economist's special report on water, 22 May 2010: Global water sources

“In decade of 90’s the growth of cities is observed is 33% while the growth of the decade in beginning of millennium is slowed down. Metropolitan cities is increased from 3 to 6 Nos. from 80’s to 2008. Class-I cities increase from 37 to 53 Nos. Class-II towns increase from 22 to 35. This trend indicates that all type of cities has grown in the decade of 90’s.”

Findings and Recommendations

  • Since the cities are growing, the population is enhanced from 30 million to 48 million.
  • Consequently water supply has been increased approximately twice in magnitude from 4,970 MLD (million litres per day) to 8,782 MLD.
  • Sewage generation has risen 38%.
  • Comparing the data of decades of 90’s to 2008, it is indicated that coastal cities and towns are not growing significantly.
  • Treatment capacity of sewage in comparison to decade of 80’s to until now has increased almost double (93%).
  • There are 498 Class-I Cities having population of 257 million and 410 Class-II Towns having population in India.
  • Total water supply including all class-I cities and class-II town in India is 48,093.88 MLD.

The CPCB says that wastewater generation from all class I cities and class II towns is 38,254 MLD whereas the installed treatment capacity is 11,787 MLD, which means that no more than a maximum of 31% of total sewage generated can be treated. (If the question is ‘where does the rest go?’, the CPCB answers that too in its report.) “This evidently indicates ominous position of sewage treatment, which is the main source of pollution of rivers and lakes,” warns the CPCB report. “To improve the water quality of rivers and lakes, there is an urgent need to increase sewage treatment capacity and its optimum utilisation.”

Image courtesy 'UN-Water Global Annual Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking Water (GLAAS) 2010', World Health Organization (WHO) and UN-WaterThe CPCB, which thankfully still has a reputation for straight talking, has advised India’s municipalities and town administrations to “set up a very thoughtful action plan to fill this gap in a minimum time frame”. The CPCB has suggested that large cities in which and from which the pollution problem is more severe, cities/towns whose effluents and sewage are polluting rivers and water bodies “will be required to be taken up on priority basis in first phase”. Why is the CPCB so insistent? Quite simply, it says there is an “urgency of preventing pollution of our water bodies and preserving our precious water resources”.

But even in the India of non-city and non-town landscapes, there are plans being hatched by the would-be water merchants. An indication of the mischief afoot comes from a report righteously entitled ‘Pro-Poor Financial Services for Rural Water: Linking the Water Sector to Rural Finance’. (If so many good deeds are ‘pro-poor’ nowadays how come the ranks of the do-gooders is only increasing?) Here is what it says: “Previous studies suggest that a considerable demand for pro-poor financial services for water in rural areas remains unmet. The number of potential microfinance clients in rural areas for investments in water supply is estimated to be 5.0 million in East/Southeast Asia, 10.3 million in South Asia, and 3.1 million in sub-Saharan Africa.” Those three numbers get to the heart of the matter.

The report continues: “Concerning microloans for rural sanitation, there are 17 million potential clients in East/ Southeast Asia, 30.8 million in South Asia, and 4.4 million in sub-Saharan Africa. In total, the potential demand for micro-loans in these three regions is estimated at US $ 1.5 billion in the case of rural water supply, and US $ 5 billion in the case of rural sanitation. The challenge is how to unlock this latent demand and turn it into an effective process.” The authors make no bones about it, the riches at the bottom of the water table is what they’re after. And who are the authors? The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (well-known as GTZ in Asia, and which I was surprised to learn is a GmbH), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and of course the World Bank.

Courtesy, The Economist, special report on water, 22 May 2010

Cover of The Economist's special report on water, 22 May 2010

The water merchants have their cheerleading squad in place in the form of a pliant media, and The Economist has obliged by bringing out one of its typically characterless ‘surveys’, as it likes to call them. It is a special report on water (the 22 May 2010 issue) and the subject is dealt with in the sycophantic manner that the weekly reserves for the captains of industry. “Yet even if it takes two litres of groundwater to produce a litre of bottled water, companies like CocaCola and PepsiCo are hardly significant users compared with farmers and even many industrial producers.” (Hear, hear, who needs those pesky farmers anyway?) “PepsiCo has nevertheless become the first big company to declare its support for the human right to water. For its part, CocaCola is one of a consortium of companies that in 2008 formed the 2030 Water Resources Group, which strives to deal with the issue of water scarcity. Last year it commissioned a consultancy, McKinsey, to produce a report on the economics of a range of solutions.” This transatlantic weekly, once upon a time British, puts in a word for big dams too: “Dams and reservoirs certainly need constant repairs and careful maintenance and do not always get them, usually because the necessary institutions are not in place.”

Who are operating as water merchants and what do they want? There are several North American / West European companies now in India: Ondeo-Degrement, Veolia Environnement, Saur of France, RWE/Thames Water of Germany and the UK Bechtel, Enron (US), Compagnie Generale des Eaux (CGE). Indian companies are going to either compete with them, or join them – Tata subsidiary Jamshedpur Utilities and Services Company (JUSCO), IVRCL Infrastructures and Projects, Mahindra Infrastructure Ltd., IL&FS.

Surat, Gujarat, near the mouth of the Tapi river

Surat, Gujarat: Fishing boats near the mouth of the Tapi river

The foreign multinationals are involved in several projects across the country. Compagnie Generale des Eaux (CGE) is operating urban water supply project in Hubli-Dharwad in Karnataka. Veolia is operating water and wastewater plant in Nagpur in Maharashtra and it has also formed a joint venture with JUSCO. Ondeo-Degremont has won contracts to construct water treatment plants in Mumbai and Chennai and it is also operating a wastewater treatment plant in Delhi. Thames Water was involved in a leak reduction project in Bangalore while United Utilities and Bechtel are partners in the Tiruppur project. JUSCO has projects in Jamshedpur, Bhopal, Kolkata and Adityapur. IVRCL is working on a wastewater treatment project in Alandur, desalination in Chennai and solid waste management in Tiruppur. IL&FS is involved in various projects in Haldia, Tiruppur, Vishakhapatnam and municipal waste processing facilities in Delhi and Ajmer, Rajasthan.

The CPCB has outlined the water, sewage and pollution tasks for cities, but its worries are going to be transformed into “a challenge to unlock latent demand” by the multilateral lending organisations on the one hand and the global water merchants (together with their Indian partners). Already deficit in terms of civic infrastructure and struggling with yawning gaps in the provision of healthcare and education, India’s towns and small cities will pass the burden of water profiteering on to those who can’t afford it. They leave the rural districts to earn a living in the cities, when their water rupee gets squeezed down to the last drop, where will they go then?


Urban food pistoleros

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A boy plays with mud pistols in Mathare slum of Nairobi, Kenya ©Manoocher Deghati/IRIN

A boy plays with mud pistols in Mathare slum of Nairobi, Kenya ©Manoocher Deghati/IRIN

Alexander Müller, Assistant Director General, Natural Resources Management and Environment Department (FAO) and Paul Munro-Faure, Chairperson, Food for the Cities Multidisciplinary Initiative (FAO) have put out a call for “ideas, contributions and inputs that could be used for a conclusive statement related to food, agriculture and cities to be finalised during the World Urban Forum V“. This will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from 22 to 26 March and the theme is: ‘The Right to the City, Bridging the Urban Divide’. As the call went out on the Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum), I sent in my response, as below:

Dear Alexander, Paul,

My contribution to your call on FSN for a statement on food, agriculture and cities follows. I work in India, with a Ministry of Agriculture programme called National Agricultural Innovation Project. One of its sub-projects is a knowledge-sharing effort that links crop science and farm practice through ICT. Within that framework I study rural livelihoods and the urban demand on a rural space that faces greater constraints with every passing year.

We are told frequently by central governments that growth is good (i.e. rising GDP) and that increasing per capita income is a national mission. This assertion has much to do with the boom-and-bust cycles we have witnessed in the last decade: in any number of stock markets, in the banking and finance system, in savings and pensions systems, in commodities, in credit and derivatives, and of course in basic food grains. That these cycles have occurred more frequently has as much to do with growing urbanisation in the South, and the mechanics of globalised capital and market risk.

The result is that cities in the South are, to put it crudely, laboratories for risk-taking experiments. The Gini coefficients of cities in Asia show why this is so. (Generally, cities and countries with a Gini coefficient of between 0.2 and 0.39 have relatively equitable distribution of resources. A Gini coefficient of 0.4 denotes moderately unequal distributions of income or consumption. This is the threshold at which cities and countries should tackle inequality urgently.)

Here are the composite urban Gini coefficients (from ‘State of the World’s Cities 2008/2009: Harmonious Cities’; United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), 2008). Over a given period (separate for each country), the urban Gini rose most for Nepal (0.26 to 0.43 from 1985 to 1996), China (0.23 to 0.32 from 1988 to 2002), Viet Nam (0.35 to 0.41 from 1993 to 2002), Bangladesh (0.31 to 0.37 from 1991 to 2000), Sri Lanka (0.37 to 0.42 from 1990 to 2002) and Pakistan (0.32 to 0.34 from 2000 to 2004) and it dropped marginally for India (0.35 to 0.34 from 1994 to 2000) and Cambodia (0.47 to 0.41 from 1994 to 2004). Note that the UN-Habitat calculations are only until 2004 for the latest city, and that the impacts of the triple crisis of climate change, financial volatility and food system distortions became widespread only thereafter. It’s very likely then that in cities in Asia, Africa and South America, the Gini coefficient has risen faster in the last five years than in the decade until 2004.

Gini coefficients for populations in Asian cities

Gini coefficients for populations in Asian cities

There’s another aspect that the urban Gini indicates, which several country studies have dealt with in the last few years, and that is the rural-urban divide, in terms of income inequality, consumption inequality, inequality in access to basic services and inequality of representation. Yet those at the deprived end of this quotient are also those who grow the food, absorb the agricultural risks, manage the natural resources and steward the crop biodiversity for a country. If we subscribe to the view of a dominant policy theocracy that ‘economic efficiency’ is good, then for such gross inequalities to be allowed to continue is not good, yet they do. For one thing, education and healthcare outcomes are directly impacted by such inequalities, let alone industrially-oriented ratios such as cost of redistribution, investment allocation and ‘growth’. Yet these continue, and are seen in every single country of the South quite conspicuously in the higher bands of food inflation in rural areas as compared with urban areas.

If inequality seems inescapable at outcome level however, the rural and urban ‘poor’ are certainly not sitting around waiting to be pushed even further into penury. They are using their stores of traditional knowledge (which have travelled with them just as they have migrated to the world’s peri-urbs) to innovate, adapt and survive. If we look at waste recycling in developing countries, most of it (as tonnage and as material value) relies largely on the informal recovery of waste of every description by scavengers or waste pickers. A raft of studies done on this sector in the Asia-Pacific region provide estimates of at least 2% and as much as 4% of the urban population is occupied in waste recovery (its reprocessing and re-use occupies another set of the population).

Is there a similar ‘waste picker’ model of urban agriculture that is being followed, almost invisibly, in Asian cities and towns? Likely yes. It flies under the radar of statistics because it is, per household unit, so small and well integrated with astonishingly tough living conditions. It is seen on tiny patches of marginal lands that are unsettled, usually only because of a city municipality’s hostility to rural migrants. These tiny linear patches run alongside railway tracks, drainage canals, water pipelines, expressways, marshes and swamps, residual watercourses, and between industrial zones. These vestigial connections to the immeasurably healthier lives led in their rural origins by migrants are the only in situ ‘urban farms’ in most Asian cities and towns. Existing municipal planning and zoning in Asia of the South either ignores them or subtracts them from its calculations.

A street in the slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh ©Manoocher Deghati/IRIN

A street in the slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh ©Manoocher Deghati/IRIN

Yet such spaces will be vital for our urban settlements. They are currently farmed in squalid conditions, often cheek-by-jowl with small-scale industries and their toxic effluents, and have no option but to use dangerously polluted water sources. Were they to be encouraged, planned for, incentivised and built into ward or neighbourhood food markets, they would lessen the massive burden the city places upon rural food cultivators. In ‘developing’ Asian cities that today are exemplars of more-GDP-is-good economics, there is often an utter disconnection between purchase of food and a recognition of its sources. The size, power and reach of the food processing industry plays a dominant role in enforcing this disconnection, for what it calls its economies of scale would not exist without it.

Where lie the answers? Linking rural food production – not with urban consumers but with urban wards and neighbourhoods – can help bridge the Gini gaps between urban and rural, between urban salaried and urban marginal. Just as in the ‘transition towns’ movement, in which agriculture is being increasingly promoted in urban areas, so too rural non-agricultural livelihoods development is starting to be promoted. Work-in-progress examples include the strategy adopted for the promotion of Town and Village Enterprises (TVEs) in China. These expanded rapidly in China in the post-reform period and as a result of their promotion between 1978 and 2000, the number of workers in China’s rural non-farm and farm labour sector grew, which stemmed the tide toward the hungry cities.