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NEWS: Mekorot may purchase Greek public water utilities

The Jerusalem Post reports, “Mekorot Israel National Water Co. is in informal discussions to purchase the Athens and Thessaloniki water and sewage companies. …(And) several (other) Israeli firms are competing for the purchase of Greek state assets as the debt-stricken country pushes ahead with its world-record 50-billion-euro divestment program. …Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund CEO Costas Mitropoulos revealed the above to reporters in Tel Aviv (last) Sunday, in between meetings with about 50 different potential Israeli investors.”

Over the past number of years, Mekorot has signed agreements for water projects in India, Cyprus and Uganda. It was also recently announced it would open an office in the United States.

LifeSource (a Palestinian collective working to promote the human right to water) has recently demanded in a petition, “Oppose the corporate expansion of the Israeli national water company, Mekorot, into international markets, Mekorot being one of the key instruments in denying Palestinians their water rights.”

Why might this demand be made?

1. The LifeSource report ‘Our Right to Water: The Human Right to Water in Palestine’ (March 2012), states, “Mekorot has been responsible for water rights violations since the 1950s when it built Israel’s national water carrier, which is diverting the Jordan River from the West Bank and Jordan to serve Israeli communities along the coast and in the southern desert. In 1982 Mekorot purchased all Palestinian water infrastructure being controlled by Israel’s military commander for one symbolic shekel. For years Mekorot has been cutting off water supply to entire Palestinian villages and serving illegal Israeli settlements without disruption. Today, Palestinian villages that are supplied water by Mekorot are the ones receiving the greatest pressure to adopt prepaid water meters, which are increasing the consumption gap between the rich and the poor.”

2. The Amnesty International report ‘Troubled Waters – Palestinians Denied Fair Access to Water’ (October 2009) highlights, “The Israeli national water company Mekorot (founded in 1937, prior to the establishment of the State of Israel) manages most of the water supplies in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. …In 1982 the West Bank water infrastructure controlled by the Israeli army was handed over to Mekorot… Mekorot operates some 42 wells in the West Bank, mainly in the Jordan Valley region, which mostly supply the Israeli settlements. Mekorot sells some water to the Palestinian water utilities, but the amount that it sells is determined by the Israeli authorities, not by Mekorot. …Access to water resources by Palestinians in the OPT is controlled by Israel and the amount of water available to Palestinians is restricted to a level which does not meet their needs and does not constitute a fair and equitable share of the shared water resources.”

3. And the Friends of the Earth Middle East report ‘Water Justice: Water as a Human Right in Israel’ (March 2005) notes “the chief weaknesses of Israel’s water policies” include, “Water cut-offs take place either for entire municipalities by the national water company Mekorot, where the local municipality has not paid its water rates or where individuals have not paid their water rates to the company.” That report adds, “Some 75,000 Bedouin residents of the ‘unrecognized villages’ who are not connected to the national water pipeline because the State of Israel does not recognize their right to settle on the site where they live. In addition, the national water company Mekorot sometimes disconnects the drinking water for the entire municipality, in cases where the water debt of the local authority has not been paid to the company. All the residents have their water cut off even if some paid their private water debt in full.”

Alongside these concerns, the Times of Israel recently reported, “Israel may soon have a surplus of water, a top water official said (on February 7). The CEO of Mekorot, Israel’s national water company, said that the country will have a water surplus by 2014, news portal Arutz Sheva reported. At a special meeting of the Knesset Finance Committee to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of Mekorot, company CEO Shimon Ben-Hamo predicted that already by the start of 2014 Israel will have enough water to replenish 1.5 million cubic meters in missing reserves.” Why? “According to Ben-Hamo, Israel is one of the leading countries in water management and the top desalinizing nation in the world…”

While challenging the World Water Forum in Marseille, France, the Blue Planet Project met with Greek water justice activists Arhontopoulus Georgios and Alexandros Kastrinakis of the “Initiative 136″ movement. It is expected that the call for public tender for the full-privatization of EYDAP and EYATH, the Athens and Thessaloniki water and sewage companies, will take place in May and that the companies will be sold by September. Initiative 136 is seeking to stop the sale of the utilities and, if that fails, develop a plan for a cooperative, non-profit, social management of the utilities. The Council of Canadians and the Blue Planet Project stand in solidarity with this water justice movement in Greece.