Defending water as life's most important resource is becoming an increasingly important topic across Europe and the world. The pressures of private interests threaten the availability of drinking water and thus problematize the concept of water as a public good. The struggle for water is becoming more real in Serbia as well.
Water as a public good is being under an attack by large private companies around the world. They are increasingly penetrating the water supply sector, thereby facilitating the privatization of water supplies. Their primary interest is profit-making, while community interest is secondary. This is why people all over the globe started fighting corporations.
This process did not bypass Serbia either. After concessions were made for the use of the springs, i.e. were privatized, the next step was the ravishment of water protection zones, embankments, rivers, streams, and other water resources. One of the biggest problems related to the water sector in Serbia represents arsenic contaminated water consumed by more than 650.000 people. Besides this, almost half of the public water supply systems produce defective water.
The question of water governance is also going to be a serious issue for Serbian society in the coming period. If Serbia wants to join the EU the estimate is that it will have to invest approx. 15 billion euros in the field of environmental protection (Chapter 27 in the EU accession negotiations). Third of this amount of money will have to be invested in the water sector. In present, a portion of the budget dedicated to the protection of the environment amounts to approx. 0,6% of state GDP. This disproportion of what will have to be invested and the current level of investments justifies assumption that EU integration process will open space for introduction of public-private partnerships and direct privatisation in the sphere of water management and water price increment (Water Management Strategy on the Territory of the Republic of Serbia adopted by the Government of Republic of Serbia already sets out the plan for increment of the price of water by 100%). This will leave long-term catastrophic consequences for ordinary citizens whose income is among the lowest in Europe. This doesn't mean that Serbia shouldn't improve the environmental standards and policies, but this shouldn't be done at the expense of ordinary citizens. Government announcement of further privatization of public utilities, land, water and other natural resources represents the most urgent problem that needs to be addressed. However, the most influential actors in the public sphere, such as strong political parties and large media outlets, pay little or no attention to this issue. Water as a human right is, and will increasingly be, a subject of struggle, and so will be the water sector through which the supply and protection of water are carried out.
As the water domain has become a vital area for capital to colonize, it's necessary to conduct concrete political work on building the movement that will articulate the demand for protection of water resources from further privatization and market regulation.
We can summarize our approach to the questions of the water as a resource, supply of the users, management in the water sector, and consumption of this resource as follows:
Access to quality water must be provided to everyone in a sufficient quantity that meets all the needs of people essential for the reproduction of daily life.
Production of water for use must be sustainable and planned in the long term.
Governance in the water sector must be democratized, and water as a resource must be de jure and de facto treated as a public good in the common ownership.
Implementation of this approach requires a different strategy than the one that currently dominates the water sector. Furthermore, the resolution of problems in the water sector cannot be achieved solely within the boundaries of that sector. It is a political issue that is part of the broader socio-economic processes. Because of its focus on egalitarianism, on sustainability, on the usable value of water, the approach proposed here can only be part of a broader left-wing political strategy that rethinks and goes beyond capitalist logic. Of course, implementing such a project is not easy at all.
First of all, it is necessary to initiate collective action and systematically work on the synergy of different actors such as unions, citizens' associations and various informal initiatives that fight for the defence of public goods. All this requires enormous effort in organizing. However, the current situation is such that inaction leads only to further privatization and commodification of the public sector. By launching a collective action and bringing together the above mentioned actors, we can create a broader front that can more actively resist capital attacks. This kind of mutual platform recognized in the wider public in Serbia today is the Right to Water coalition that represents a versatile and resourceful agent for opposing dominant policies in the water domain.
Because the water sector is of utmost importance for people's lives and for the reproduction of society, close monitoring of the current conditions and drawing attention to the dangers that arise in this domain are of high importance. We believe, therefore, that the issue of water availability and management, its sustainable use and protection, is a political question that cannot be answered without adequate analysis, vision and action that put the focus on the needs of the people and not on the interests of capital. With this paper, we aim to contribute to finding such an answer.