DEVELOPMENT: Corruption Drains Water…
By Hilmi Toros
ISTANBUL, Mar 19 (IPS) – Several civil society organisations are planning anti-corruption drives to combat the wheeling-dealing considered a major factor in the world water crisis.
The initiative comes through a series of anti-corruption measures outlined at the World Water Forum (WWF) by Water Integrity Network (WIN) and Transparency International (TI), two Europe-based international NGOs. The fifth World Water Forum is being held in Istanbul Mar. 16-22.
The two groups have said in a joint report earlier that “the water crisis is a governance crisis with corruption at its core.”
Following the report, the Water Integrity Network announced at the Forum that “the objective is to build a broad-based coalition partners to form a strong voice against corruption.
“Partnership and coalition building at global, regional as well as country levels are needed to scale up action and achieve impact in terms of reducing corruption through entrenched integrity, transparency and accountability,” the WIN plan states.
“People in the developing world have little voice in water issues affecting them,” Dr. Hakan Tropp of the Stockholm International Water Institute and keynote speaker at a panel of international experts held at the Forum told IPS. “The drive to empower them is recent, and it will take time to be effective.”
One hurdle that has to be overcome, Tropp said, is fear, because people are afraid to blow the whistle on corruption for fear of retribution from entrenched and powerful officials.
“It’s not easy,” Jasper Tumuhımbıse, an anti-corruption crusader from Uganda told IPS. “If you act alone, you will be targeted. Form groups first. We finally managed to establish public accounting forums. Users get together with providers and managers.” He appealed for creation of an international tribunal to try the corrupt, calling water corruption “genocide”.
Tropp says there are a dozen international conventions and many guidelines against corruption, besides anti-corruption law in many countries, but that implementation is slack.
Despite the difficulties, Tropp said, good practices are beginning to emerge, with citizens groups getting involved in monitoring water issues in some places. He mentioned fresh moves against corruption in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, Bolivia, Colombia and Lesotho.
Although anti-corruption measures are few and far between, the Forum was presented some concrete examples of action against corruption. In Colombia, water regulator deliberations are now open to the public. In Bolivia, the municipal water and sewer service provider SEMAPA has ‘citizen directors’ on its board. And WIN is lauding the Lesotho government for prosecuting a senior official for corruption.
Another encouraging sign is a move by the corporate sector to adopt codes of conduct against bribery, Dr. Donal O’Leary of Transparency International told IPS. This would be in their own interest. “Preventing water corruption may be difficult, but cleaning up after the mess is more difficult and more expensive.”
Forum participants took note of the 400-page Global Corruption Report by WIN and TI, the first dealing exclusively with corruption in the water sector.
“Corruption in the water sector is widespread and makes water undrinkable, inaccessible and unaffordable,” the report says. “It is evident in the drilling of rural wells in sub-Saharan Africa, in the construction of water treatment facilities in Asia’s urban areas, the building of hydroelectric dams in Latin America and the daily abuse and misuse of water resources around the world.”
The report does not spare wealthy nations. It speaks of their vulnerability to “grand” corruption in awarding of contracts for building and operating municipal water infrastructure, nepotism on boards of directors, embezzlement, and political considerations outweighing technical ones.
But it is the developing word suffering the most, chiefly through “petty” corruption, with the poor at the losing end. Corruption is blamed at least partly for the fact that 1.2 billon people have no guaranteed access to water, and more than 2.6 billion are without adequate sanitation.
The anti-corruption moves come after some notorious cases of corruption. These include a multi-million dollar bribe in Lesotho over an 8 billon dollar dam, a survey showing that 66 percent of Kenyan households have reported water-related corruption, and instances of extortion in repair services in Zimbabwe.
The victims are mainly the poor, particularly women, who cannot afford bribes. They also see services reduced or cut, and their water diverted to richer areas.
Dr. Tropp says studies show that corruption inflates the cost of connecting a household to the water network by as much as 30 percent. Because of corruption-related expenses, an additional 48 billon dollars is needed to achieve the target for water in the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. One of these goals is provision of access to safe drinking water.
“Funding aimed at helping people meet their basic water needs is being diverted for personal gain,” the report says. “At the current rate of progress, sub-Saharan Africa will miss the MDG targets of halving by 2015 the proportion of people without access to safe water and sanitation by an entire generation for water and more than two generations for sanitation.”
Water and corruption are in a “destructive partnership” because water is seen as a high-risk sector, the report says. Since it is a basic need, spending is huge. The market for building and operating municipal water is worth an estimated 210 billon dollars annually in Western Europe, North America and Japan. Water-related activities also involve a host of other sectors, including construction. (END/2009)