ADB Water Policy, and Privatisation - A case study in Sri Lanka

[Please download the MS Word version of this document to obtain a properly formatted version]

The Dispossession

ADB Water Policy, and Privatisation
A case study in Sri Lanka.

Hemantha Withanage
Executive Director/Senior Environmental Scientist
Environmental Foundation/Friends of the Earth Sri Lanka

“No we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice pours down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream”
Martin Luther King Jr.


In 1996, the Ministry of National Planning of the Government of Sri Lanka with technical assistance from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) started the preparation of a National Water Policy . They set up a National Water Secretariat and recruited a highly paid staff to engage in this process. A foreign consultant was hired to write the policy and he vanished after doing so.

In the meantime a steering committee was set up. Other than the Secretaries to the various Ministries, three NGOs have been invited to sit on this committee. A farmer was also invited, but only at a very late stage.

The staff of the Water Secretariat and the Secretaries to the ministries made a number of foreign trips (approximately 42) in relation to the preparation of this policy.

NGO participation workshops have been held in certain places with the support of a journalism based NGO, but national level NGOs and many eminent individuals were not invited to participate in such workshops. Moreover those who did participate have not been informed of the outcome of the workshops.

The Policy was prepared only in English. This is a serious issue since it has adversely impacted on the accessibility of the policy to the general public.

The Cabinet of Ministers approved the policy in March 2000.

The policy was obtained by the Environmental Foundation only in November 2000 and our analysis revealed that it has detrimental impacts on a) Public water rights b) Water prices and c) Social and physical environments.

Environmental Foundation with a few other NGOs started a campaign under the name of "Alliance for the protection of common water rights" Later many NGOs, individuals and even political parties joined this campaign.

At present, the National Water Secretariat is in the process of changing the policy. The public is in a dilemma about this since they are not aware of what is happening within the Secretariat.

However, the Government continues with its plans and the ADB has imposed a condition that if the water policy is not approved, no funds will be allocated to the water sector in Sri Lanka.

Why water policy?

“The dictionary describes water as colorless, tasteless and odorless - its most important property being its ability to dissolve other substances. We in South Africa do not see water that way. For us water is a basic human right, water is the origin of all things - the giver of life.”

Poet Mazisi Kunene in Water Is Born All Peoples of the Earth.

Is water scarce?

Water is a valuable resource. It is the last common resource. It is more important to life than oil. It is the blood of the earth.

Water is available everywhere. But clean water is a scarce material. Clean water has become scarce in Sri Lanka not due to natural causes but because of human mismanagement.

The bureaucrats and the politicians who made wrong decisions in the past may be blamed for the present situation. The reasons for this situation are the clearing of watersheds, siting of industries along river basins, and digging tube wells in a haphazard manner etc. However the main reason for this scarcity is the non-enforcement of environmental laws.

The very word "scarcity" has such an ominous sound to it that we may forget that it is “the peculiar condition of a business society, the calculable condition of all who participate in it" Shortage makes the economy go round by conferring advantages on some people. If pure market conditions prevailed, the eventual distribution of scarce resources might reflect the true cost of extracting them from the natural world.

Scarcity is quite a valuable natural phenomenon for some politicians as well as for economically defined interests. Although there are several agencies engaged in decision making related to water, there was no single agency to deal with its scarcity. In this context the formation of an agency to deal with this subject is very vital.

Water as a commodity?

Water is a basic need of any living form. Therefore humans trying to own water resources is a very un-ecological approach.

Pure drinking water has already become a commodity in urban areas. Sometimes it is more expensive even than milk. However, people still offer water to any guest or even to animals without considering the price.

Thus putting a price on pure water will certainly destroy the ability of the people to afford suitable water. Access will certainly depend on the purchasing power of the people and so the poor will loose their ability to get water .

Therefore we strongly believe that the water pricing for farmers and the other small water users is an unconstitutional act by people with vested interests who are, in turn, controlled by the International funding institutions.

Water is a right!

Water is a powerful symbol throughout the world, carrying with it ideas of baptism and new life, cleansing and healing, and the promise of growth and prosperity. As such, in a region with growing demands on a limited resource, the increasing scarcity of water could result in devastating conflicts and catastrophes.

“There is water within us, let there be water with us. Water never rests. When flowing above, it causes rain and dew. When flowing below it forms streams and rivers. If a way is made for it, it flows along that path. And we want to make that path. We want the water of this country to flow out into a network - reaching every individual - saying: here is this water, for you. Take it; cherish it as affirming your human dignity; nourish your humanity. With water we will wash away the past, we will from now on ever be bounded by the blessing of water.”

Antjie Krog

Water cannot be separated from life. The commons own it. The commons meaning every life form on earth. There cannot be private waters or state owned water on earth. It flows from land to river, river to the ocean along the water cycle.

The South African water policy states that “All water, wherever it occurs in the water cycle, is a resource common to all, the use of which shall be subject to national control. All water shall have a consistent status in law, irrespective of where it occurs.”

This policy also states that “There shall be no ownership of water but only a right (for environmental and basic human needs) or an authorization for its use. Any authorization to use water in terms of the water law shall not be in perpetuity.”

The Sri Lankan Constitution is silent on water resources. In contrast, the South African Constitution states that “Everyone has the right to have access to sufficient water”

This should be the same right for all living beings and their Ecological partners.

Sri Lanka is the country that owns the most ancient irrigation system. Today the new generation of the King Parakramabahu has stated in its National Water Resources Policy “that all surface and ground water are owned by the state and managed by the government in partnership with water users on behalf of all Sri Lankans.”

King Dewanampiyatissa was told three centuries before the birth of Christ, “we are its guardians- not owner”.

The government is the trustee of the water resources but most definitely not the owner. Water is a fundamental right of the people. Can we allow the Government to breach that right?

If water becomes a government property, would we have a fundamental right to use such water? If the government does not allow the use of water should we stop cultivation, drinking and using water for other purposes?

Can the government be the owner of the water under the soil of our land? If the water is owned by the state then what about the air we breathe? If the government decides that the air is owned by the state would we need a permit to breathe? If we accept that the state owns water then the question is who owns the rain?

At present, more and more water is being taken out of the hands of the small communities, siphoned-off for bigger causes, and later reallocated at higher prices. The human and environmental consequences of such short -sighted management cannot be underestimated.

In this context the need for strategies to manage, conserve and protect water is urgent. But this does not mean that the public should be dispossessed of their water rights when managing water.

Sri Lanka National Water Policy

The annotated draft of the water resources regulation discussed in November 1988 regulation 2 states that

"After the date specified in a Notice under section 23 of the Act, no person indicated in that Notice shall divert, abstract or use water resources, except under and in accordance with a water entitlement issued to him by the National Water Resources Authority"

Regulation 3 (1) states

"An application for water entitlement shall be submitted to the Authority in triplicate, and shall: -

(e) Be accompanied by the fee specified in schedule II hereto."

Schedule II gives the necessary application fees i.e.

(a) Registration of existing use Rs 500
(b) Application for water entitlement Rs. 1000
(c) Renewal of water entitlement Rs. 500
(d) Declaration or transfer of water entitlement Rs. 250
(e) Application for transfer of water entitlement Rs. 1000

According to this schedule other than an application fee, there will be an entitlement fee depending on the quality of water, source of water and the level of the ground one-draw water.

The said water entitlement can be transferred, mortgaged or sold to any other person. Also this entitlement is necessary for drawing water from surface water wells, tube wells, aquifers, rivers, reservoirs, tanks or any other water sources.

Regulation 8 states that "the holder of a water entitlement may apply to the Authority for the renewal of his entitlement, at least (six) months before the date of expiry of that entitlement."

According to this regulation an entitlement is not forever and the holder has to pay a fee from time to time to the authority.

The policy also states that

“The right to water will be granted through Water Entitlement”.
It also states that

“Small scale users and individual water users supplied through group schemes will be exempted from the requirement to hold an entitlement.”(Page ii)

It is clear that the proposed Water Resource Law is bound to protect the rights of the water entitlement holders. If the small users do not have such entitlements the Law will not protect their rights. Who can believe that this will not happen in the future?

The policy further states that

“Small users will be exempted from the requirement to hold water entitlements, BUT local governments will be encouraged to register small wells and to apply guidelines on well density in ground water management areas”.

While ground water management is necessary, this statement implies that the public will have to register their small wells.

The use of a system of water entitlements will be the means of privatizing water resources. Those in favour of this system argue that the people should be able to sell their water rights similar to land entitlements.

Although the small users do not need to get entitlements, the Farmer organizations or the water distribution facilities will have to obtain that entitlement. This means that finally the cost will be passed on to the small farmer or the individual users by those entities.

In this context the National Water Resources Policy and Institutional arrangement approved by the Cabinet of Ministers on 28th March 2000 clearly shows that in putting a price on water, the government considers it an economic commodity. This then gives an opportunity to the private sector to enter into the water business.

Therefore the price of electricity, water and all other products, which use water as a raw material or in the manufacturing process will definitely increase. Also the share of the entitlement fee will be included in every service and product such as GST.

At present the Policy states that the users will have to bear some part of the cost of the water schemes. In the future, the danger is that the Government can ask the people to pay the full cost since the government does not have money to manage those schemes. Thus I do not see any limit to the price increases.

Example 1
Company A has a water entitlement for 100,000 Gallons per day in the Kirindi Oya Basin . A farmer organization in the area has another entitlement for 150,000 gallons. All other small users have no water entitlements. In the dry season the water is insufficient to cater to the needs of all users. Who has the legal right to water in Kirindi Oya basin?

The National Water Resource Management policy approved by the Cabinet of Ministers on 28th March 2000 gives the answer. Company A and the farmer organization have the right. The individuals have to wait for the next rain.

Experience in other Countries.

The US farmers in Florida already rejected a similar water policy. Thousands of Bolivians took to the streets in protest against such a bad policy. The people in Bolivia made it very clear that they do not want water companies entering into the public water systems.

Thousands of Bolivians took to the roads against the privatisation of water facilities.

Case in Bolivia

Cochabamba is a small town in Bolivia. The Government of Bolivia made arrangements to privatise the water scheme in the area with an infamous water company Bechtel.

The massive protest, that prompted the declaration of martial law in Cochabamba, was prompted by the sale of Cochabamba’s public water system to a private corporation (Aguas del Tunari, owned by International Water Limited) which then doubled water rates for poor families that can barely afford to feed themselves. The main financial power behind the water corporation was Bechtel Corporation based in San Francisco.

The people of Bolivia have made it very clear that they want Bechtel out. The Bolivian Government, which was so committed to protecting the water companies, declared martial law and killed at least 5 people including a 17 year old boy and injured more than 30 people during the protests in April 2000. That was declared a water war in Bolivia. A general strike and road blockade began in Bolivia and finally the Bolivian Government had to break the water contract.

Water Companies’ eye on Sri Lanka.

British-led water investors were in Sri Lanka in December 2000. The British water mission stated that as Britain strengthens its trade links with Sri Lanka, new opportunities are opening up in the water sector, fueled by economic development and environmental awareness coupled with the need to meet ever tougher quality standards set in legislation. In particular these British companies are keen to explore the scope for developing joint ventures with Sri Lankan Companies to operate in both Sri Lanka and possibly, other third world markets.

Bechtel Water, which was responsible for the problems in Bolivia also attended. If the government claims that there is no fear of water privatization through the proposed legislation why are these companies so interested in Sri Lanka?

“Halcrow” has already done a feasibility study on the Kelani Conservation Barrage , which will come under the next ADB funded water project in Sri Lanka.

World water Market

WATER BANK who assists water rights transactions that is Wastewater Resources based in New Mexico invites the owners of water rights to sell their water entitlements through the Internet. The entitlement numbers and other details are available on the web.
Is this what we are trying to achieve through the new legislation? These transferable water entitlements will give an opportunity to the private sector to enter into water business.

The experience in United Kingdom shows that their water sources are now managed by the French Companies.

Pre –projects for water privatization

Projects related to the policy and to water privatization have already been started in various rural areas and are very destructive.

The Rural Sanitation and Water Projects funded by the Asian Development Bank removes existing water users from the water sources.

The Japanese International Cooperation Aid funded project in the Walawe left bank involved concreting of the canals. This deprived the surrounding ecosystem of water and has therefore been destructive.

These projects appear to be pre-projects that pave the way for the implementation of water policy and entitlements in Sri Lanka.
For instance transporting water to the paddy fields through the concrete canals allows the amount of water used for irrigation to be measured. Charges can then be levied for this water.

Financial Assistance

The Asian Development Bank, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and the Government of Netherlands have provided the Technical assistance for this policy formulation.

The ADB is negotiating another project to establish the National Water Resource Council and construction of a conservation barrage and weirs in some of the rivers.

But the Bank imposes a condition that the GOSL has to approve the policy before that project can be implemented.

Violation of the policies on Transparency and Participation

Although the said policy document states that local authorities, private sector and non-governmental organizations participated in the consultations, we found that they were not aware that these consultations were about the pricing of water. Such policies should always be very transparent and the public should have access to the policy process. But unfortunately the Water Secretariat has distributed only 300 copies so far.

This shows how this policy was kept a secret. Also the public has not been informed of the outcomes after the preparation of this policy and regulations was completed.

Our correspondence with ADB staff shows that they are happy with the process. Although the people of Sri Lanka were not properly informed and not invited the Bank staff believe that the GOSL has conducted a participatory process.

Does Agriculture waste water?

Colonial rulers brought in the WasteLand Ordinance to obtain land rights. At that time land was a scarce item since they wanted large amounts of land for the cultivation of tea and coffee. In those days water was available through out the country. Clearing of such watersheds made water a scarce material. Now the Multinationals who are behind the World Bank, ADB and the IMF want to rape both land and water in the name of globalization.

" If we force farmers to save water, then land productivity will go down. Land will no longer be the scarcest commodity. And, if farmers must pay for their water, then they`ll want to measure their efficiency in terms of water productivity. "

Dr. Baouman of the International Rice Research Institute

The big argument of the policy makers is that paddy farmers waste water resources. If we take the amount of water used by the plants, and compare this with the amount that is getting lost through seepage, percolation, and evaporation in the field, then we get an average efficiency level of about 30 percent. That means 70 percent of irrigation water is lost. " But is it really lost?" Large amounts flow back into the system and are used again downstream.

So the issue is not whether farmers waste water, but whether our irrigation system is efficient enough to reuse that water. In most recent irrigation systems, once water flows out of the field it is never used again for irrigation. What King Parakramabahu did was to construct a system that collected the water leaving the paddy field. That is how he ensured that not a drop of water would go into the sea without being used for agriculture.

Furthermore we had rice varieties that did not need such large amounts of water. The brother organization of the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), destroyed these rice varieties during the Green Revolution. Now they want to discourage people from engaging in paddy cultivation. The constitution of this organization clearly spells out that water pricing and preparation of water policy is within their mandate.

If the policy considers the flow from the paddy field as a waste of water, why doesn’t it consider the pollution downstream of an industry?
A single industry can pollute the water in Kelani, Kalu, Bolgoda, Lunawa, Muthurajawela and Negombo lagoons. Shrimp farmers polluted the entire lagoon system in the North Western Province. How can they not be responsible for the wastage of water? If the policy is seriously considering water wastage, the water taxes should have started from such polluters. The polluter tax could have been the alternative way of getting the same result.

Food security in danger.

Rice is the staple food of our society. Nothing can compensate for the loss of rice. The access to water is vital for the cultivation of rice.

Therefore the new development must accept this reality and water should be shared on a equitable basis, so that the needs of those without access to water are met, so that the productive use of water in our economy is encouraged, and so that the environment which provides us with water and which sustains our life and economy is protected.

However under the proposed policy Government wants to discourage farmers from growing paddy and instead wants to promote other crops, supposedly as a way to save water.

In this way the policy is very detrimental to the food security of the country.

Disputes over water.

Water is already a disputed resource. People in the Kirindi Oya Basin have disputes with Pelwatta Sugar Company on this issue. Water in Kantale Tank and even in Mahaweli is subject to disputes. In spite of this the poor farmers still have access to water, because there is no written right or entitlement given to these powerful companies.

Are we ready to sell the water rights in Kala wewa , Parakrama Samudraya or in the Mahaweli reservoirs?

This is the vision of the World Trade Organization along with the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and other International Financing Institutions.

ADB Water Policy

Beyond the basic water needs for human survival, the Bank (Asian Development Bank) regards WATER AS AN ECONOMIC GOOD. The Bank states that it “will stimulate its allocation to sustainable high-value uses through market based incentives. The costs of expanding water services and improving water resources management in the region are high. Further public and private investments will require agreements to substantially increase cost recovery. FULL COST RECOVERY will stimulate the economic allocation of scarce water resources, promote water conservation and environmental protection, and raise revenue for further investment” .

There is an ongoing debate about whether consumers should pay for water. Whether we like it or not the pricing of water resources is coming to the scene as transferable water entitlements. The policy makers say that it is a one way of managing water resources. But there are many other, more appropriate, ways to manage water.

The questions related to the water policy are:

a) Who owns the water resources?
b) Why is it a transferable water entitlement?
c) Will farmers be exempt from the requirement to obtain water entitlements?
d) Will the poor loose access to affordable clean water?
e) Who is behind this water policy?
f) What is a water tax? etc.

We know that the Asian Development Bank has provided the technical assistance for the preparation of the Sri Lankan water policy. This water policy clearly spells out the Asian Development Bank’s vision on water: that is that water is no longer a free resource; rather it is an economic commodity.

The ADB’s policy further states that “Governments are well ADVISED to adopt the principle of full cost recovery in their national water policies, and to develop appropriate programs to phase it in as soon as possible, as part of the recommended three-pronged strategy for demand management. The Bank will therefore vigorously promote full cost recovery for all water projects, including the capital investment and operation and maintenance costs, environmental externalities, and resource management costs. A common problem to increase service fees, particularly in irrigation has been direct investment in local providers to increase the service levels to the customers’ satisfaction. Such links are essential for service fees to be successfully increased or imposed at all. National water policies and sector strategies should outline how full cost recovery will be achieved in each country and be more rapidly introduced in water supply and hydropower than in irrigation projects. In the irrigation subsection, the Bank will therefore pursue a phased approach to increasing beneficiary inputs or charges.”

It also states that “The need for cost recovery applies also to resource management, which is a government responsibility, and has been neglected to date in most countries. Particularly in water quality control and resource protection. Substantially higher revenues need to be raised from consumers and citizens in general to allow governments to improve resource management in the priority river basins of each country. The sustainability of planning and regulatory services will depend on it. The costs of improving resource management CAN BE LEVIED TO BULK WATER USERS AND SUPPLIERS AND PASSED ON TO CONSUMERS through a resource management component of the service fees in water supply and sanitation, irrigation and drainage, and electricity services, the latter in countries with hydropower projects”. (The Banks policy on water, 1998)

The above statements clearly show how water tax can be added on to the price of goods and services. Also they show how water resources can be handed over to the private sector. It also gives us a good understanding of how the Sri Lankan water policy came into the picture.

According to the Bank, water is a critical resource for sustainable economic development in the coming decades. Scientists predict that world water scarcity will be a serious problem by the year 2025. Population growth, rapid urbanization and industrialization are imposing rapidly growing demands on water services and pressures on water resources. The growing imbalance between supply and demand has led to shortages and competition, and to increasing pollution and environmental degradation. The costs of responding to these pressures have significant implications for economic development. To be effective, the response itself needs to take a more holistic approach to water policies, strategies and projects. The past practice of dealing with each sub-sector separately is no longer adequate to meet the present challenge.

In this context, ADB had invested more than $12 billion, or about 17 percent of its cumulative total lending in water projects by the year 1997 and 24 % by the year 1998. The World Bank took the lead in formulating the water sector policy, which was prepared in 1993 as a response to the issues identified by Agenda 21 in 1992. ADB took the initiative in preparing water policy in the Asian region.

A regional consultation workshop held in Manila in May 1996 was an important milestone in the process in which almost all Developing member countries participated. The proceedings of the consultations, entitled Towards Effective Water Policy in the Asian and Pacific Region were published at the end of 1996 in three volumes.

The bank has adopted a participatory approach in the preparation of this policy, in view of the many stakeholders concerned with water policies and projects. The expectation is that the resources invested up front in consultations will help to build the commitment to implementing effective water policy in DMCs through a process of continued consultation partnerships, reforms, investment and capacity building.
There is no argument about the need for water management. Conservation is a must in this regard. However the main focus of both the ADB and the Sri Lankan water policies does not appear to be the management and conservation of water. Rather it is the establishment of water as a commodity which could provide investment opportunities to the private sector which is the so called engine of the ADB development model.

Item 3 of the ADB water policy states that steps must be taken to “improve and expand the delivery of water services in water supply, irrigation, and other subsectors, through support for autonomous and accountable service delivery”.

The Bank also states that “conservation and demand management interventions will be very important, but will generally not be sufficient to close the rapidly widening gap between demand and supply. WATER USE CHARGES should be important instruments to increase water use efficiencies and boost the VIABILITY OF AUTONOMOUS WATER SERVICES. Including their capacity to expand operations in the future”.

Private sector involvement and water pricing

The Bank’s policy also states that the actual delivery of water for irrigation and water supply will be most efficient if it is DELEGATED to autonomous and accountable service providers. These can be public, private or cooperative agencies that provide MEASURED WATER to their customers or members in a defined geographical area for an appropriate FEE.

The fourth item of the Bank’s water policy states that it will foster the efficient and sustainable use and conservation of water through effective packages that combine WATER USE AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT CHARGES AIMED AT FULL COST RECOVERY in each project with improved regulation and increased public awareness.

Therefore it is clear that the Sri Lankan water policy is no different to the ADB’s water policy.

Sri Lankan water policy is also based on 7 titles. The foundation of the water policy, water rights and allocation, demand management, ground water management, information management and institutional structure for water resources management.

The policy is founded on the warning signs that point to increasing water resource problems in Sri Lanka. These problems are the highly variable rainfall and growing demand for water, and degradation of the watersheds, resulting in sedimentation of reservoirs and more serious floods and droughts. Water pollution from domestic, agricultural and industrial sources is contaminating surface and ground water and affecting public health. Ground water is being over extracted in some areas.

However, the Sri Lankan Water Resource Management Policy is silent on the issue of water pollution or depletion. It contains no suggestions for addressing these problems.

The ADB water policy highlights that planning, development, and management of specific water resources should be decentralized to an appropriate level responding to basin boundaries. The National policy also stated that to ensure a healthy environment and sustainable use of both surface and ground water resources a comprehensive, river basin oriented approach would be used. There is no argument with this.

The fifth principle in the ADB water policy is based on sharing of water resources. It states that water resources shared within and between nations should be allocated efficiently for the mutual benefit of all riparian users. The Sri Lankan national policy states that flexibility of water allocation must be ensured in a way that promotes social harmony and individual decision-making.

Further in the national policy principles refer to the increased recovering of water service costs from, and sharing of water management costs and of basin level water resource management costs between direct beneficiaries. These are the concepts borrowed from the ADB water policy.

According to a statement made by Mr. John R. Cooney the Residents Representative of ADB at the South Asian Sub Regional Meeting of the NGO forum on ADB , free water is a thing of the past; for anybody it costs money to do it, costs money to generate it, costs money to dispose of it; somebody must pay some money along the chain. He further said that a “free resource is a wasted resource”. In his opinion, therefore, pricing of water is good. This would reduce the amount of water wasted by farmers involved in paddy cultivation, or so the argument goes.

It is clear that this is not a GENUINE national water policy. It is not a creation of the bureaucracy and the people of Sri Lanka but an application of ADB water policy under the government logo.
The management of water is very necessary; but it is the pricing that is under fire. The written ADB policymaking process is good; but in practice the process is not genuine. The management water is good; but ploughing the fields for the water corporations is troublesome.

Poverty strategy and water.

I believe no one has an argument on the water conservation approaches. The debatable issue is how water entitlements will affect society.

The proposed act is bound to protect the entitlement holders. The others who do not have such water entitlements will be uncertain as to how their rights on water will be protected.

Can the water policy protect the farmers along Kirindi Oya who commit suicide due to the lack of water to safeguard their cultivations? Can this ensure that Yala National Park gets sufficient water? Can this ensure that Pelwatta Sugar Corporation stops taking water illegally from the Menik Ganga? Can this prevent water entitlements from being sold, transferred and mortgaged to British or other multinational water companies? Can this prevent an increase in the prices of the goods and services, which use water in the manufacturing process?

The policy will not protect the water rights of the poor. Therefore this is against the poverty strategy of the Bank.

The proposed policy not only affects the water rights but also the food security of the country. We are already in a debt crisis. If we do not have money, will the rice producing countries provide us with rice? When people or companies go bankrupt will they not sell their water rights? What then happens to an individual’s sense of water security?

The National Government should act as the custodian of the nation’s water resources and its powers in this regard will be exercised as public trusts. All water in the water cycle whether on land, underground or in surface channels, falling on, flowing through or infiltrating between such systems, should be treated as part of the common resource.

Water is a basic need of any living creature and charging for pure water will certainly destroy the ability of the people to afford suitable water. The access will certainly depend on the purchasing power of the people, and the poor will loose their ability to get pure water. The water required for meeting basic human needs and maintaining environmental sustainability should be guaranteed as a right. All other uses of water should be recognized only if they are beneficial to the public.

There is no guaranteed security mechanism to protect the poor in this water entitlement business. Therefore more and more poor will loose their rights. We once again say that water is owned by the PEOPLE and not by the STATE. The public is the guardian of this natural resource. The privatizing of nature could become a very disastrous political move. The loss of the common people’s rights over water will definitely create serious impacts in society and the environment.

Why does ADB impose conditions?

The ADB has formulated a second proposal that involves a project that will support the water policy. This project includes construction of weirs, barrages and the establishment of the National Water Resources Council to implement the water policy. What is interesting here is that the loan for this project will not become effective unless and until the Sri Lankan Government has approved the water policy.

We have seen above that this water policy contradicts the ADB’s own poverty strategy. Also it was shown that the preparation of the policy violated policies on transparency and public participation. Nevertheless the ADB is obviously adamant that this water policy be approved. Why?

In using such a smart strategy to bring the government to a stand and almost force it to approve the water policy, the ADB is in effect persuading the government to support the private sector involvement in the water sector. And it is the private sector that is being given priority by the ADB.

The ADB is not worried about the DMCs or the public but is concerned about private companies.


It is clear that the ADB policy is not meant to support the DMCs to promote water conservation. It instead provides opportunities for the private sector to become involved in the water business. Water entitlements are the means for such involvement.

Water entitlements will allow government and the private investors to charge a fee for water. It will be the easiest way to take over the public’s water rights and hand them over to the investors. At the end prices of all items will be increased due to the water tax.

The public will have no control over this tax. In this situation the poor will be the worst affected since clean water will be unaffordable to them. This will later affect the health condition of the poor.
Therefore such water policies around the world will dispossess the public of its water rights. Some people will blame globalisation but we should know who is behind this. The ADB, WB, WTO and the countries that control them will not be able to avoid responsibility for the disaster that occurs as a result of these policies.

File Attachments: 
Countries and Regions: Asie du sud Sri Lanka
Resource Type: Ressources diverses
Resource Topic: Economie Utilisation de l'eau
Content for Websites: