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Challenges and opportunities facing water-service cooperatives: cases from Argentina and Finland

Castro, Jose Esteban; Tapio S. Katko; Pekka E. Pietilä; Joni Vihanta; Petri S. Juuti; Riikka P. Rajala; Melisa Orta; Margarita Portapila; Alberto Muñoz; Iván Pérez; Joaquín Ulises Deon

This issue corresponds to Vol. 5, No 4, of the WATERLAT-GOBACIT Network Working Papers (http://waterlat.org/publications/working-papers-series/)

This issue is part of the activities of the WATERLAT-GOBACIT Network’s Thematic Area 3 (TA3), the Urban Water Cycle and Essential Public Services (http://waterlat. org/thematic-areas/ta3/). TA3 brings together academics, students, professionals working in the public sector, workers’ unions, practitioners from Non-Governmental Organizations, activists and members of civil society groups, and representatives of communities and users of public services, among others. The remit of this TA is broad, as the name suggests, but it has a strong focus on the political ecology of urban water, with emphasis on the politics of essential water services. Key issues  addressed within this framework have been the neoliberalization of water services, social struggles against privatization and mercantilization of these services, the politics of public policy and management in the sector, water inequality and injustice in urban areas, and the contradictions and conflicts surrounding the status of water and water services as a public good, as a common good, as a commodity, as a citizenship right, and more recently, as a human right. The publication is a product of a long-term collaboration with the Capacity Development of Water and Environmental Services (CADWES) Research Group, which holds the UNESCO Chair in Sustainable Water Services at Tampere University of Technology (TUT) in Finland under the coordination of the issue’s co-editor, Prof. Tapio S. Katko. The idea of developing a series of publications on the history and relevance of water-service cooperatives around the world has been an important component of our common research plans and initiatives, and we decided to start with this issue on the challenges and opportunities facing cooperatives in the current context. Consistently with our Network’s inter- and transdisciplinary approach, the authors include academics and post-graduate students from the social sciences, history, and engineering, as well as professionals and leaders of civil society organizations working in areas relevant to the topics addressed in the publication.

The issue features four articles, two of them addressing the situation of waterservice cooperatives in Finland, and the other two focused on experiences from Argentina. Article 1 is authored by Pekka E. Pietilä from CADWES-TUT and Joni Vihanta, who is the Managing Director of Kannus Water Cooperative in Kannus Municipality, Finland and simultaneously a PhD student doing research on water cooperatives at TUT. The paper presents a synthetic overview of the situation of water cooperatives in Finland, including an analysis of the challenges and opportunities they face in a context of rising consumer expectations and stricter service standards. Article 2 by Petri S. Juuti and Riikka P. Rajala, also from TUT, complements the first paper by focusing attention on the case of the first water cooperative created in Finland, Pispala Water Cooperative, which was founded in 1907 near the city of Tampere in the south of the country. Both articles highlight the fact that in the late Nineteenth Century, before becoming independent from Russia in 1917, Finland decided that essential water and sanitation services should be delivered by municipal public bodies or cooperatives run by users and community organizations, rather than by profit-making private companies, which remains a significant principle for the organization of these services in the country until today. Article 3 is led by Melisa Orta, a PhD student in Politics at the National University of Rosario (UNR) on a studentship from the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), Argentina, and was co-authored with Margarita Portapila, from the International French-Argentinean Centre of Information Sciences and Systems (CIFASIS), CONICET and UNR, Alberto Muñoz, from Argentina’s Union of Users and Consumers, and Iván Pérez, from the country’s Cooperative Funds Managing Institute (IMFC). The article discusses in some detail the history of the cooperative movement in Argentina since the late Nineteenth Century, and the development of water-service cooperatives in the country. It focuses on the case of water-service cooperatives in the Province of Santa Fe and highlights the significance of cooperatives in the provision of services in small and medium cities and rural areas. The authors also address the wide range of obstacles and threats facing water cooperatives, from the lack of safe water sources and adequate financial and technical resources to the systematic antagonism showed since the 1980s by neoliberal governments that seek to erode and eventually dismantle the cooperative movement, which they see as an obstacle to their plans to fully privatize essential services and other important areas. Finally, Article 4 was authored by Joaquín Ulises Deon, a PhD student in Social Agrarian Studies at the National University of Cordoba (UNC) on a studentship from CONICET, Argentina, also working on a joint PhD on Urban-Regional Studies between the Bauhaus Universität Weimar, Germany, and UNC, Argentina. The article partly complements the previous one by addressing important aspects of the history of the cooperative movement in Argentina, highlighting the fact that not all cooperatives adhere to cooperative principles, and many are in fact private enterprises in disguise. The paper addresses the development of cooperatives, and particularly water-service cooperatives, in the arid Province of Cordoba, Argentina, and focuses in more depth on four cases that the author considers are examples of genuine cooperative experiences. The article presents a very critical assessment of government policies against water-service cooperatives at the national, provincial and local levels, and shows evidence of the multiple pressures facing the cooperative movement in the province. Cooperatives have developed successful strategies to cope with these pressures, by establishing alliances with social movements and civil society organizations, exercising legitimate leadership in local and regional struggles to defend their water sources from the aggressive expansion of extractivist activities, including mining, agribusinesses, and private urbanizations.

 

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