This year’s World Water Week will see activists gather in Stockholm to discuss ways of getting clean water to the 1 billion people around the world who are currently without it. But, if water activists remain blinkered by ideology and continue to oppose private water provision, this goal will not be met – as explained in a new paper from the Sustainable Development Network.
Even though private water provision sees clean and safe water delivered to millions around the world, many politicians and NGOs remain irrationally opposed to the idea that profit should be made from “essential resources” like water.
According to the paper’s author, Alex Nash, a water engineer with experience of both public and private sector water projects in less-developed countries, this mindset is actively hindering universal access to water, and with it the achievement of several Millennium Development Goals.
The truth is that many public utilities in less-developed countries suffer from endemic corruption and rarely deliver services equitably – even refusing to recognise and connect slum-dwellers:
“The reality of many state run utilities is not pretty. Bribes, extortion, kickbacks, nepotism, patronage, shoddy technical standards; it’s all in a day’s work.”
Meanwhile, it is the private sector – from individual water porters to larger companies – that fill in the gaps left by dysfunctional state utilities.
The World Bank estimates that in most cities in less developed countries, more than half the population get their water from suppliers other than the public utility. This is the case in many peri-urban areas, as in Asunción Paraguay where 500 aguateros work to supply water to 500,000 people. But political opposition to private water could spell the end of such vital services.
“The net result of these ideologues’ well-meaning efforts is a staunch defence of the corrupt, lazy or incompetent utility managers and mayors. It is a defence of the comfortable middle classes in developing countries who have cheap water while their poorer compatriots queue and walk all day.”
Read the full paper: “Water Provision for the Poor- How ideology muddies the debate”,
by Alex Nash, published 13 August 2007 by the Sustainable Development Network – available for download at http://www.sdnetwork.net/files/pdf/Water_Provision_for_the_Poor.pdf