The French corporate giant Veolia plans to dominate the global water market in a $15 billion merger with its main competitor, Suez. Critics warn that this will create a dangerous global monopoly and further erode public control of precious water resources.
“Veolia’s plan to dominate public water services all across the globe is becoming a terrifying reality,” Mary Grant, the director of Food & Water Watch’s Public Water for All campaign, said in a statement according to Common Dreams.
“The merger of the world’s largest water corporations will erode any semblance of competition for water privatization deals. This lack of competition will worsen our water affordability crisis, eliminate good union jobs, and open the door to cronyism and corruption.”
Common Dreams staff writer Kenny Stancil also reports that according to the international watchdog group Corporate Accountability, both Suez and Veolia “have a long track record of human rights, labor, and environmental abuses” throughout the world.
Lauren DeRusha, water director at Corporate Accountability, said in a statement that “after decades of failed water privatization deals that put profit over people, communities around the globe—from Pittsburgh, U.S. and Osorno, Chile; to Gabon and the halls of the United Nations—have soundly rejected the corporate control of water.”
According to Grant, these corporate mergers will keep intensifying the problems associated with water privatization. “Municipalities struggling with budget crises linked to the Covid pandemic may consider selling off their valuable water systems as a short-term response to plug budget gaps,” she said. “This would create long-term harm.”
Water privatization has been a controversial issue since Britain became the first and only country to sell off its entire water industry in the 1980s. Many of the private water projects by the World Bank’s International Monetary Fund (IFC) have been opposed by coalitions of political and environmental groups amid fears that market water prices would increase way above what the poorest could pay.
As political opposition has increased in the past 20 years, far fewer water projects have been proposed, and many fewer people have been connected to clean water than the World Bank and G8 countries might have expected. According to the IFC, about 768 million people still lack access to clean drinking water, 2.5 billion people are without safe sanitation and roughly 3.5 million people die annually from water-related diseases.
“With anticipated increases in usage of this magnitude and a renewable—but not inexhaustible—common resource, the competition for water will continue to escalate, writes Jim Rieley in The Systems Thinker. “In general,” he writes, “when this kind of competition occurs, it almost guarantees that the common resource will quickly diminish.”
The planet’s increase in droughts due to global warming has already created systemic water crisis conditions in many parts of the world. In many African cities who have been promised but never received private water supplies, water-borne diseases are common due to lack of clean water and sanitation. Increased privatization of strategic water resources will, according to many scientists and environmental activists, continue to erode public access to fresh and clean water if privatization continues.
Water, fresh air, and soil are all lifegiving resources that belongs to all of us. They are part of the commons, and their continued health is vital to our future. The increased profit making and erosion of these precious public resources due to overharvesting was aptly described as the Tragedy of the Commons in an article by ecologist Garret Hardin in 1968.
As long as governments allow corporations to see natural resources as a free lunch in the name of profit, growth, and progress, these mega-mergers will expand, while the commons will shrink. It is time we turn the tide and heed the warning words of ecologist Garret Hardin.