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The Deep: Rising Sea Levels and Corporate Control of Water

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On this episode of Making Contact, we look at the privatization of our earth’s most precious resource – water.  People around the world have been organizing against this privatization in the face of climate change and rising sea levels that threaten to contaminate our limited drinking water supplies. Come along to South Florida and Lagos, Nigeria. Transcript below.

Image Credit: Water Vendor – Wikimedia Commons

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  • Akinbode Oluwafemi, deputy director Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria
  • Shayo Holloway, former managing director of the government-run Lagos Water Corporation
  • Betty Abah, anti-privatization protester and Lagos resident
  • Bimbo Osobe, women’s rights campaigner and Lagos resident
  • Matt Schwartz, South Florida Wildlands Association
  • Jayantha Obeysekera, Florida International University’s Sea Level Solutions Center
  • Diana Umpierre, organizer with the Sierra Club’s Florida chapter
  • Xavier Cortada, an artist and professor at the University of Miami
  • Ron DeSantis, Florida’s Republican Governor


Host: Anita Johnson

Show Producers: Monica Lopez and Anita Johnson

Freelance Reporters: Sam Olukoya (Nigeria) and Veronica Zaragovia (Florida)

Staff Producers: Monica Lopez, Anita Johnson, Salima Hamirani

Executive Director: Sonya Green

Director of Production Initiatives and Distribution: Lisa Rudman

Transcription for this episode:  Mickey Ellinger



  • Blue Dot Sessions – Roadside Bunkhouse
  • Blue Dot Sessions – Bedroll
  • Blue Dot Sessions – Messy Inkwell
  • Blue Dot Sessions – Kirkus
  • Audiobinger – The Garden State


Anita Johnson:   I’m Anita Johnson, this week on Making Contact…

[Actuality from protest]

Speaker: We are protesting today about climate change because politicians today are not willing to do enough about it. So we are taking to the streets to fight for our futures and for those who are suffering from the consequences of climate change.  Crowd: I am a climate fighter! I am a climate fighter!


On this episode of Making Contact, we will look at the privatization of our earth’s most precious resource – water.  We will look at the ways people around the world have been organizing against this privatization in the face of climate change and rising sea levels that threaten to contaminate our limited drinking water supplies.  For this – we’ll travel to South Florida and Lagos Nigeria.


In Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, water rights activists are in a struggle to stop a government plan to privatize water supplies in the city. Even though Lagos is a megacity, the majority of residents in Lagos don’t have access to a public water supply. The government says privatization is key to ending the Lagos water crisis. But water rights campaigners say if this happens, water will be priced beyond the reach of the poor.

Sam Olukoya reports from Lagos.


OLUKOYA: A busy street in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital. With a population of about 21 million people, Lagos recently surpassed Cairo as Africa’s most populous city.

And it’s continuing to grow. But the city suffers from acute water supply problems, with about half of the population lacking access to a public water supply. The government says the solution to this problem is to privatize Lagos’ water supply. But there are strong oppositions to privatization.


 OLUKOYA: These protesters at a rally in Lagos shout “no to water privatization.” Water rights activists opposed to the government’s plans to privatize water in Lagos have organized several rallies like this.



OLUKOYA: Most Lagos residents rely on water being pumped out from bore holes because public water supply is inadequate. The boreholes which are narrow shafts bored into the ground are dug privately by each household.


 OLUKOYA: Lagos overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. As a coastal city, there is abundance of ocean water around Lagos. But the government says with too many people getting their water supply from deep water wells, sea water is now gradually seeping into the city’s ground water, a situation  that could potentially further aggravate the water crisis in the city.


HOLLOWAY: Studies have been carried out that in ten – fifteen years from now, if nothing is done, the majority of boreholes in Lagos would be drawing salt. If we do not take the bull by the horn and take the necessary action, when that happens where do we then get water?


OLUKOYA: Shayo Holloway was managing director of the government-run Lagos Water Corporation when the government announced plans to privatize the water supply in 2014. Holloway  says it is necessary to privatize Lagos water supply to address the water problem. This he said will save the ground water from being contaminated by ocean water. He said the government’s water   privatization plan aimed at solving the water crisis requires a lot of capital which the government cannot afford


HOLLOWAY: To execute this master plan it will take Lagos State a minimum of two and half years of every penny that comes into her coffers going only to water. We know that is not feasible, there is health, there is education, hence the Lagos State Government embraced PPP as a policy thrust for accelerated infrastructure development.

OLUKOYA: PPP stands for Public-Private Partnership. Since the late 1990’s, the Nigerian government has gradually increased the number of deals made with private companies to pay for infrastructure projects like roads, railways, port management, and now, the provision of fresh water.


The water privatization plan will involve private investors investing in the government water works and running them for profit. The government owns the infrastructures but the private companies will run them. The proposed investors include: Violia, Metito, Abengoa, Visionscape, Brio resources technologies and Aquamed.

The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria is leading a campaign against the plan to privatize water supply in Lagos. Akinbode Oluwafemi is the deputy director of the organization. Oluwafemi says the water sector should be controlled by the people and not by profit seeking corporations.

A report by the Transnational Institute, and the Multinational Observatory says within 15 years, more than 180 cities and communities around the world took back control of their water services from private companies, a situation known as re-municipalization.


OLUWAFEMI: Cities across the world are re-municipalizing their water. What do I mean by that? They are taking back the water from corporations, so you are coming back with a failed model of development back to Africa again, because everything that has failed in the world must be tried on Africa. So we have to quickly organize ourselves as a people to stand up and resist whatever model that has failed around the world that they are bringing back to Africa to do trial and error.


OLUKOYA: The campaign against water privatization is known as ‘Our Water Our Right.’ Oluwafemi speaks on how his organization is leading the campaign.


OLUWAFEMI: We created what we call the water parliament whereby we gather community people under the trees, under canopies, to sit down as a people to say look how do we actively participate in decisions that affect our lives regarding the water sector. So the water parliament, building community voice becomes a very critical part of this campaign.


OLUKOYA: The water parliament has convinced many Lagos residents that water privatization will create a lot of problems. They have also helped local people build their capacity to resist water privatization. One way they have demonstrated this is by joining the protests against water privatization. Betty Abah is one such Lagos resident.


ABAH: I think it is common sense that a commodity, a natural resource like water, if it is to be privatized, if at all it is even legal to do it in the first place, it should have the input of the people, government should consult the people. But in this case, we call ourselves a democracy and the people are not being consulted. If water is taken away then we should also expect that the air that we breathe will also be privatized.


ACTUALITY: Oluwafemi at a protest rally


OLUKOYA: Oluwafemi urging protesters on at a rally. Street protests against water privatization complement the water parliaments. Oluwafemi says, like the water parliament, the street protests have helped to sensitize the populace to the issue.


ACTUALITY: Street sound


OLUKOYA: This is the Makoko slum in Lagos. It’s evening time and many families in this overcrowded slum are spending time outdoors. There are many slums like this in Lagos. Like Makoko, these poor neighborhoods are within the low lying coastal parts of the city. Lagos slums get their supply from boreholes.


Osobe, who is a member of the Nigerian Slum and Informal Settlement Federation, says water privatization will affect the poor in Lagos, many of whom live in the city’s slums because it will be expensive to use boreholes since the government intends to impose taxes on their usage. The alternative, which will be metered public water supply, will be equally expensive


OSOBE: We are surrounded by water everywhere, but we are not enjoying it.  Water is the source of life. When we are denied water, they are killing us indirectly. Already we are spending more than three thousand per week in order to get water, so if they now privatize it, the common man is not going to find it very easy. Why the common man is not going to find it very easy is – the common man is struggling to buy firewood, struggling to buy kerosene, struggling again to be buying water. Is that possible? It is not possible.


OLUKOYA: The water rights campaigners often play loud music from large speakers during their rallies. This music, by the late Nigerian music star Fela Anikulapo Kuti, highlights the importance of water. The music says no one can survive without water. Protest leader Oluwafemi speaks on what the water rights campaigners are hoping to achieve with their protests.


OLUWAFEMI: What we want to achieve is to let the World Bank and multinational corporations to know that once again, they cannot longer profiteer from the agonies and pains of our people. Today for instance in Lagos, a city of about 21 million people, less than ten percent have access to water. What they are looking at is not about how to encourage the government to enact policies that will ensure access to clean water but how they can get these people that don’t have access to clean water hooked to a particular system from which they will continue to profiteer, this is what we want to stop.




OLUKOYA: Protesting workers are teaming up with civil society groups to play an important role in the ‘Our Water Our Right’ campaign. But in spite of the strong support from workers and civil society groups, the struggle against water privatization in Lagos has dragged on for about five years. Oluwafemi says the lengthy struggle highlights the formidable forces the water rights activists are fighting against.


OLUWAFEMI: The struggle is dragging because capital will not give up easily. See, Lagos is the big apple for instance, in Nigeria. The equation is very simple, 21 million people, if you connect 15 million at ten thousand a month they will become one of the richest corporations just like that, it is not about the people, it is not about humanity, it is not about our lives, it is about money, and so they will not let go except now that we are building the power to say no.


OLUKOYA: Oluwafemi however says it remains remarkable that the campaign has prevented the government from making any major progress towards the planned water privatization, and they have been able to sustain their movement.


OLUWAFEMI: When we started this campaign in 2014 – 2015, the Lagos State government boasted that they were going to privatize within months. Now we are years after. We survived two governors and because we have been able to build huge political pressure in the state, people are much more conscious now. When we started, I told you the Lagos State government was going to sign an agreement with IFC, that agreement was never signed, the IFC had to pull out because the environment has become very very toxic, so we have made the environment very toxic for privatization. So we have gotten to that point that the government can no longer ignore us.



The IFC which Oluwafemi mentioned is the International Finance Corporation.

It seems the campaign to stop water privatization has only just started. The water rights activists have taken their campaigns out of Lagos to places like the North Central State of Plateau where the state government has worked out plans to privatize water there. Oluwafemi and his group  have

b uilt a movement to resist water privatization there.  But Oluwafemi is looking beyond Nigeria. He says the campaign against water privatization is now being taken out of Nigeria to other African countries.


OLUWAFEMI: Because the water privatizers are also all over Africa, we are talking to our African brothers to say look, this is another major struggle for the rights of the black man and we will not allow this to go unchallenged. We want to see an Africa, a Nigeria where people themselves will democratically control their water and that the government respects the people’s rights to water.




OLUKOYA: Back at the protest rallies, the campaigners are not relenting in their struggle against water privatization, in their efforts to stop the government’s move. But there appears to be a stalemate as the government has not shelved the idea. Oluwafemi says the struggle in

Lagos is crucial as it is Africa’s largest city. He says if the battle against

water privatization can be won in Lagos it will be won in other African cities.



That was Sam Olukoya reporting from Lagos, Nigeria.



You’re listening to The Deep: Rising Sea Levels and Corporate Control of Water on Making Contact. This show is distributed for free to radio stations in the U.S. To find out how to support us, download shows or get our podcast, go to radio project dot org, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram. Our handle is making underscore contact. Now back to part one of “ The Deep: Rising Sea Levels and Corporate Control of Water” on Making Contact.


Anita: INTRO

Groundwater supplies 25 percent of the freshwater we use in the United States. That’s according to the American Geosciences Institute. Across the country, groundwater can be found in aquifers —  really big, underground and porous rocks that hold water.

The largest freshwater aquifer in North America is called the Ogallala Aquifer — which lies beneath eight states, from Texas to South Dakota.

Florida gets most of its freshwater from aquifers. Much of Florida is surrounded by bodies of saltwater that threaten the supply of freshwater. And as global warming causes sea levels to rise…salt water seeps in underground.

Veronica Zaragovia has this story.

Sound of Everglades National Park


ZARAGOVIA: If you think of the Everglades, you might envision acres upon acres of ponds, marshes and forests, wading birds, alligators and crocodiles. Looks like a wild natural habitat.

But over the decades, a lot of this marshland has been drained for agriculture, development and flood control. Only about half of the original wetlands remain.

Matthew Schwartz is passionate about preserving what’s left of this ecosystem. So much so, that ten years ago, he and some friends started the South Florida Wildlands Association to help protect it. He likes taking people on tours there, too.

SCHWARTZ: I’m interested, of course in seeing the beautiful places, but I’m also interested in seeing power plants and roads and canals and ranches and tomato farms and sugar fields and orange groves, all of it to me is the Everglades and all of it I find interesting.

ZARAGOVIA: The farms, fields and groves Schwartz mentions — those produce much of the tomatoes, oranges and sugar consumed across the country.

In order for there to be farming and development in Florida, drainage in the Everglades began in the late 1920s.

Lake Okeechobee in Central Florida lies within the Everglades. It’s the second largest freshwater lake in the continental US.

During dry seasons — from November to May, water from the lake goes through man-made canals to help fill what’s known as the Biscayne Aquifer. This aquifer is just below ground level and is mostly porous limestone. Millions of people in the southern end of Palm Beach County, all of Broward and Miami-Dade counties and in the Florida Keys drink from that aquifer.

SCHWARTZ: So that’s our freshwater drinking supply. When you take it out for drinking water, when you drain it into the coast, because you want dry land or dry land for people, dry land for crops, it creates a deficit and the salt water which interconnects with that fresh- water supply is more than happy to move in. It’s just a function of pressure.

ZARAGOVIA: No boundary exists between the freshwater ecosystem and the salt water coming in from the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay.

SCHWARTZ: As that salt water rises and we drain water off the freshwater ecosystem that salt water just moves right in. And that’s the problem.

ZARAGOVIA: That problem is called saltwater intrusion.


ZARAGOVIA:  Rain — like this recent shower here — helps fill South Florida’s freshwater bodies — which ideally soaks into the ground to recharge, or refill, water aquifers.  And that way, leave less room for the salt water to seep in.

OBEYSEKERA:  You know, we have plenty of rainfall between 50 and 260 inches of rainfall. But the problem is, the rain happens during the wet season and during drought you don’t have enough during dryer periods.


ZARAGOVIA: That’s Jayantha Obeysekera. He now works at Florida International University’s Sea Level Solutions Center. He used to work for the South Florida Water Management District.

Obeysekera explains that in South Florida, wells are drilled into aquifers, like the Biscayne Aquifer, to pump out water for all of our uses — for people, and for businesses and farms.

OBEYSEKERA: The problem is, the more you draw water because we have an increasing population in South Florida, the more that salt water from the ocean gets pulled into the wells.

UMPIERRE: And that’s an issue that can disproportionately affect some communities more than others.

Diana Umpierre is an organizer with the Sierra Club’s Florida chapter. As part of her commitment to the preservation of water, she attends public meetings, protests, and advocates for elected officials to preserve South Florida’s freshwater supply, because, she says, many of South Florida’s most marginalized communities don’t get as much attention.

UMPIERRE: The more expensive it is to clean water, usually that cost comes down to your water bill.

OBEYSEKERA: So now you might think, oh, let’s move the wells inland towards the Ever- glades. And when you do that, you will draw water from the Everglades. We don’t want that either. So this is why it’s a balancing act. So, as you can see, it affects not just people on the coast, but also people in the inland. Everybody will have to deal with the water shortages during droughts.


CORTADA: I try to make the invisible visible. By planting trees that normally grow at the water’s edge and instead plant them in your home.

ZARAGOVIA: Xavier Cortada, an artist and professor at the University of Miami, speaks here in this promotional video about his interactive Plan(T) art project.


ZARAGOVIA:These trees he refers to are mangroves. They used to grow along the coast waters of Florida, but as saltwater comes inland, they’ve moved inland, too. As part of this project, Cortada and his team hand out mangrove saplings at a farmers market in Miami-Dade County.

CORTADA: And if I plant a tree that is an iconic coastal tree that only lives in saltwater at the water’s edge, and that tree is now surviving in your house because of saltwater intrusion right below your garage, right below your kitchen, right below your bathroom, right below where you get your drinking water. That means that your drinking water is vulnerable, too.

ZARAGOVIA: The goal is to motivate people to put pressure on elected officials.


CORTADA: Please create some policies that don’t subsidize the fossil fuel industry, so that we can mitigate against a warming planet that melts the polar ice sheets that raises the sea, that ex- pands the ocean, that raises a sea level, that drowns our coastal areas and steals our drinking water by flushing it with salt from the rising seas. And it is not just a South Florida problem where we have very low elevation.


ZARAGOVIA: But it does get really bad here. Take Miami Beach. As sea levels rise because of high tides, water comes up through the ground.


AMBI CBS 4: Water comes to this side over here…


ZARAGOVIA: That’s a report from August of 2019 by the local CBS 4 channel.

Miami Beach’s began a stormwater program in 2014, which has cost at least 650 million dollars — largely paid by residents — and involves installing pump stations that drain roadways. And yet the city’s still struggling to control the flooding.


Miami Beach video: Although pumps in the overall stormwater management system are designed to manage a specific range of storm water, they are not a total solution to the problems faced by Miami Beach, such as hurricanes or significant sea level rise. As a result, we continue to search for additional solutions.


ZARAGOVIA:  Remember that rising seawater impacts more than mobility and transportation. It also directly affects the drinking water here.


Ultimately, people with more money will feel less of the impact of South Florida’s water woes less. They can move.

 Or as Mathew Schwartz of the South Florida Wildlands Association sees it…


SCHWARTZ: They have water filtration options, they can buy expensive bottled wa ter and supply all their water needs that way. But ultimately, salt water intrusion is going to make Florida very difficult place to live for everybody. And sure, the wealthier you are the more options you have to make your own situation easier.


Recently, Schwartz and Diana Umpierre with the Sierra Club aligned with officials from cities and counties to stop an oil drilling proposal for the Everglades. That could’ve threatened South Florida’s freshwater sources because the oil well would’ve been right in the middle of the Biscayne Aquifer, where the freshwater is stored.

In May, Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis made an announcement that put an end to that threat. He spoke at Everglades Holiday Park. You can hear airboats going around.


DESANTIS: This is, uh, so we will permanently save the land from oil production. But it also will be, even apart from that, the largest wetland acquisition in a decade.


ZARAGOVIA:  Florida will buy 20-thousand acres from a family that had won approval for that exploratory oil well to protect those wetlands.

Diana Umpierre says this kind of victory motivates her to keep doing her work, despite the ever growing threats to water.

UMPIERRE: We definitely think there’s hope. Which is why we still advocate to make sure we deal with this issue. You know, we’re not giving up. But we certainly think that we’re getting at a level where like, you know, we have to be far much bolder that we’ve been we just can’t keep doing business as usual.

ZARAGOVIA:  People who can’t get involved in the advocacy side can help by using less water on a daily basis. Simple things like replacing green-grass lawns with plants that require less water or even salty water, and not letting water run when showering.

There are also man-made projects and proposals underway like storing more rainwater in what are called reservoirs.

As Matthew Schwartz points out — as people continue moving here, the demand for water outpaces supply — especially with continuing saltwater intrusion, contamination from fertilizers, sewage and lower rainfall levels.

SCHWARTZ: Florida has been just a place where developers, and FP&L — the power companies — have just seen as, let’s just… the more the merrier! Let’s just put as many people in here as we can, convert as much wetlands as we can into development and make money.

ZARAGOVIA:  He hopes the COVID-19 pandemic actually will help in one way — by slowing down all the new housing and highway developments.

For Making Contact, I’m Verónica Zaragovia in Miami, Florida.



You’ve been listening to “The Deep:  Rising Sea Levels and Corporate Control of Water” on Making Contact.


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The Making Contact team is Executive Director Sonya Green, Director of Production Initiatives and Distribution Lisa Rudman. Producers are Monica Lopez, Anita Johnson, and Salima Hamirani. Web Updates: Sabine Blaizin. And I’ve been your host, Anita Johnson. Thanks for listening!

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