Posted by: r.m. | August 23, 2012

protesting for water

excerpt from Revolution of the Thirsty

… as images of the uprising filled my television screen, I was surprised that commentators seemed unaware of the water crisis, and of the global geopolitical pressures that had made the crisis all but certain. The American media focused mainly on internal corruption and oppression. They did not report on the role of the international superpowers in influencing the Mubarak regime to privatize the country’s public land and water; they did not report, for instance, that since the 1990s the World Bank has argued that privatization enhances “efficiency” and has mandated the policy as a condition for making loans; and that in 2004 this mandate led the Egyptian government to privatize its water utilities, transforming them into corporations which were required to operate at a profit, and which thus began to practice “full cost recovery,” passing along the cost of new infrastructure through rate increases. [7]

Within months of privatization, the price of water doubled in some areas of the capital, and citizens started to protest. At one demonstration in northern Cairo, in 2005, “angry residents chased bill collectors down the streets.” [8] Those who could not afford the new rates had little choice but to go to the city’s outskirts to collect water from the dirty Nile River canals. [9] In 2007, protestors in the Nile Delta blocked the main coastal road after the regional water company diverted water from farming and fishing towns to affluent resort communities. “The authorities sent riot police to put down these ‘disturbances,’” wrote Philip Marfleet, a professor at the University of East London, even as “water flowed uninterrupted to the gated communities, and to country clubs and upmarket resorts of the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.” [10] In the next few years such demonstrations only grew in intensity. As activist Abdel Mawla Ismail has noted, “Thirst protests or intifadas, as some people have called them, started to represent a new path for a social movement.” From this path the revolution that consumed the nation in 2011 seems inevitable. People can live in poverty for a long time; they cannot live without water.

 

Egypt’s boom in luxury suburbs began in the 1990s with the first wave of privatization of government agencies and public land. Vast swaths of desert were sold at bargain prices to friends and relatives of President Mubarak, who also received guarantees of infrastructure like roads, electricity and water lines. [11] These insider deals led to outrageous claims of water rights, like the assurance of unlimited fossil groundwater to a Saudi prince who wanted to grow food in the Sahara. International companies vied for contracts to build water treatment facilities. To be sure, life in the Saharan suburbia was not always as idyllic as advertised; developers of gated communities typically promised reverse osmosis filtration, but many found it cheaper to hook up to municipal water lines — and notoriously unreliable state-run water treatment plants — than to build dedicated facilities. [12] Still, residents paying up to $350 monthly in maintenance and utility fees expected clean water to flow freely when they turned on the tap, and more often than not it did. A recent study of two Cairo suburbs found that 69 percent of residents in Sixth of October City and 42 percent in New Cairo had tap water available at all times. [13]

All the while, as water was flowing and taxpayer money shifting to the exurban oases, millions of residents of old Cairo struggled with little access to sanitary facilities. The ostentatious water wealth that made possible the “greener side of life” was becoming a symbol of government corruption. The Revolution of the Thirsty was gathering strength.”

 

Read the article in full! highly recommended

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