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Publication Details

Reference
Coalition Against Water Privatisation  (2004) Phiri Report on Prepaid Water Meters. Coalition Against Water Privatisation  : 1-24.

Summary
For as long as we are able to tell, water has been universally recognised as a naturallyoccurring resource, necessary for the survival of all human beings. From religious texts to the first books that children read to international law, water is represented as a collective resource to which all human beings are entitled. Water has also come to define the ways in which people relate and interact, and the kinds of social relations possible within groups, communities, families, etc. From baptisms to weddings and funerals, water plays an important role in facilitating communal, collective, and social practices.

Colonialism and apartheid were the means by which people in Africa were forcefully separated from land, water and the means of life, and turned into wage slaves. With the rise of anti-colonialism and national liberation, regaining access to these resources was at the centre of struggles. But led by the world’s largest companies and the World Bank, the profit motive and the market has again taken hold of everything today, including those resources absolutely essential for our reproduction as living human beings. The fight back, however, is
just beginning as people all over the world defend life in all its forms. This research project is a product of those involved in the struggle for control over one of life’s sources, water.

Prepaid meters form part of the logic of neoliberal policies1, such as privatisation, ‘cost recovery’, and water has become a big business, with the ‘ethics’ of the market and profit motives being prioritised over the needs of people. This has inaugurated a whole new way of thinking about water – no longer is it a shared resource, but a means for a few major transnational companies to make profits. And, a whole new set of relations and
possibilities/limitations emerge – different from and in conflict with the notions of ‘water as a human right’, ‘meeting basic needs’, and ‘free basic services for all’. In this, the state has begun to speak in the interests of big business, and ‘the responsible citizen’ has come to be defined as the ‘customer-citizen’ who pays for basic services and takes individual responsibility for those aspects of his/herlife previously protected by the state.

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