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Campaigners say keep water public

Water should be kept well clear of the market, say campaigners

A campaign has been launched in Switzerland to head off attempts to privatise the water industry.

Swiss unions and charities say water supply and price would be severely jeopardised if the authorities were to yield to pressure and liberalise the market.

Under the banner "Water: a public utility", the campaign hopes to keep water out of private hands, both in Switzerland and around the world.

"Hard facts do not support the view that the liberalisation of water has lots of advantages," says Fritz Brugger of the Swiss charity, Helvetas.

Brugger says the results of a global study into water liberalisation, conducted by Helvetas and other Swiss charities, showed that private water suppliers often hiked prices and neglected rural areas, focusing instead on more lucrative urban centres.

On a local level, regional water suppliers have already been broken up and transformed into businesses, says Rosmarie Bär of the Swiss Coalition of Development Organisations.

The latest example is Wettingen, in canton Aargau, where voters are due to decide this weekend on whether to liberalise the regional water supply.

Water sell-off

According to Bär, state-run water companies are under attack from all sides, with discussions underway within the World Trade Organization to liberalise the market worldwide.

In line with WTO proposals, the European Union has demanded that Bern launch a full liberalisation of the market, says Eric Decarro of the Swiss Union of Public Services.

Campaigners are demanding that state ownership of the water supply be enshrined in the Swiss constitution, blocking any attempts to privatise the utility.

They are also calling on Switzerland to step up pressure at the United Nations for the creation of an international water convention that would define the supply of water as a human right.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

A new campaign calls for water supply to be kept in public hands.

Swiss unions, charities and NGOs say privatisation often leads to price hikes and a poorer quality of service.

They have called on Bern to enshrine the public supply of water in the Swiss constitution.

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