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Oct. 6 (GIN) – As Detroit fights to end a punishing wave of water shutoffs sparked by a payment crisis six years in the making, a bid by the World Bank could put Lagos, Nigeria, in similar straits.

Word of a still hush-hush plan to sell off the Lagos water utility to profit-seeking owners reached the ears of Nigerian rights activists who fear that the plan, endorsed by the World Bank, could potentially price essential water out of the reach of city dwellers.

In a letter to the World Bank president, activists with the Nigeria-based Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria called it outrageous that the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) could advise putting public water in private hands.

“It is an outrage that a public water utility responsible for more than 20 million people is being advised by the IFC on privatizing its water system without any public participation or transparency,” they wrote in a published statement. “This contract undermines democratic control and ultimately development, and it fosters mistrust of the World Bank.

“Lagos residents have the right to know the details of the IFC’s advisory contract,” they continued, “and the World Bank has a responsibility to disclose these types of contracts. This is even more important given the IFC’s financial stake in Veolia (a French water management company) and other private water corporations that stand to benefit from such projects.”

Their view was not, however, shared by the municipal Lagos Water Corporation (LWC) which touted water-for-profit on their webpage. Under the heading “Private Sector Participation… the way forward,” officials wrote: “Citizens may think water is a social good, a gift from God, not to be paid for… But this notion is gradually fading away in Nigeria, particularly in Lagos.”

“Guaranteed profitability also finds place among traditional folks,” they wrote, “as is aptly echoed in an age-long common saying of the Yoruba that a water seller never makes a loss.”

The Nigerian Guardian, in an editorial, advised further discussion. “At this juncture, governments across the federation should realize that water is a necessity and not a luxury. As elections are around the corner, the Peoples Democratic Party and All Progressives Congress should tell Nigerians their solution to this critical element of human development. The parties should tell Nigerians how they intend to supply potable water to all citizens.” w/pix from South Africa anti-cutoff movement

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