Case studies

Water Solutions

Case 16: MAMA-86 and Water in Ukraine

Introduction

In the context of an emaciated post-U.S.S.R. Ukrainian state and the West’s economic “shock therapy,” public services floundered and people suffered. In this context, non-state actors such as the NGO movement MAMA-86, have stepped in to powerfully intervene on behalf of both poorer citizens and the embattled social institutions of Ukraine. ********* MAMA-86 is a national women-led NGO that has spearheaded struggles both against water solutions based in privatization and in favour of nurturing public systems that aim for universal access. The action of this organization was prompted by harsh realities resulting from a difficult post-communist transition: in 2005, it was estimated that 25 per cent of water supply and distribution infrastructure had reached its planned lifespan, while 22 per cent of supply systems were in a “state of emergency” and 35 per cent worn and inadequate. With Ukrainian women leading the drive and citing drinking water as their primary concern and most pressing problem, MAMA-86 helped to launch campaigns as well as community and city-based initiatives designed to advance community control of such basic priorities as testing and cleaning of wells, research relating to pollution levels in water sources, and the installation of sanitation and safe drinking water systems in critical institutions such as schools and hospitals. They have also promoted water meters as a way to raise consciousness about water usage and wastage, and engaged in educational initiatives concerning water-borne illnesses and conservation strategies. In one powerful example at the local level, MAMA-86 helped provide legal support and resources to local residents in Odessa who were grappling with an undemocratic move by a local village head to authorize five businessmen to “rent” a section of the Kuchurgan river basin, a decision that resulted in illegal dams and the drying up of the river, causing extreme damage to local farmers and citizens. This contract was annulled with the help of MAMA-86. The organization has also contributed to national legislative and policy frameworks aimed at equity of water access for all. In addition, despite attempted preferential treatment for the water corporation by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, MAMA-86 helped to lead opposition to, and eventually block, a privatization bid for Odessa’s water system by Suez Corporation.

Questions

  • Is there a “creeping privatization” danger in celebrating an NGO’s role in participating in the delivery of water services?
  • Many criticize NGOs/CSOs by highlighting the fact that they are not democratic, beyond their memberships (or even within). Do we need standards to evaluate the work of such organizations towards water justice?

Notes and Links

  • The chapter “Ukraine: Women act against poverty and privatisation” from Reclaiming Public Water.
  • MAMA-86's website (English archive).
  • See also a recent article featuring their work in the magazine “Sanitation Now.”