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Alternatives to Water Privatization

Water is a basic human right and governments have a responsibility to ensure universal access to water and sanitation services. Water and sanitation services that are publicly funded, managed and operated are the most common approach around the world. This approach has evolved in the course of human history due to the adverse public health outcomes (cholera and other water-borne diseases) when major portions of the population are excluded from access to adequate water and sanitation facilities. The public health literature makes it clear that expanding access to clean water has such great human and economic benefits that it is worth considering having governments provide it at a loss, to be subsidized by other sectors that benefit.

Yet many governments have failed in their obligation to provide universal access to water and sanitation services. This has enabled the World Bank and other international institutions to claim that the public sector is not efficient and cost-effective and the private sector is the answer. Most people are not convinced that the answer can be found in ceding their public water systems to private profit-making corporations. Instead, around the world, local communities have developed their own creative water management solutions. This section will explore a range of dynamic alternative models of publicly-owned or collectively-owned water services that focus on democratic participation, local accountability and community activism.

Public Partnerships
Private companies have offered themselves as the solution, but have not posted a good record. Many cities have concluded that their vital water and wastewater services could be operated more efficiently in the public sphere. A number of communities have reorganized operation and management under local, public control. It has saved money, rewarded employees, maintained or improved water quality and kept money in the community.

Public Sector Labor Management Committee Case Studies on Water
The dwindling supply and the steady increase in demand for high quality safe drinking water drive the emergence of more efficient water delivery and waste water treatment as national priorities. Union and management leaders at many public water utilities around the country are working collaboratively to make their operations “best in class” while saving millions of dollars for water and wastewater customers.

The New Mexico Acequia Association (NMAA)
NMAA is a statewide organization of acequias and regional associations of acequias. Their mission is to ensure the survival of agricultural and rural traditional communities in New Mexico by protectiong the historic water rights of the acequias through community education and involvement in policy. They work to protect the long-term viability of acequias as part of a way of life rooted in land-based culture, as institutions of government dedicated to water management at the local level, and as vital elements of the land-based economy of New Mexico's traditional communities.

Public-Community Partnership in Savelugu, Ghana
A community-based water management model that employs collaboration between public utilities and local communities has been shown to be an effective alternative to privatization.

The Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, India
Real and lasting solutions, decentralized and ecological alternatives exist for Delhi as well as the rest of the country. While these alternatives are more reliable and have lower costs, corporation and politicians do not like them since they strengthen water democracy instead of increasing corporate profits and political corruption. The press release below proposes some alternative mdels of water democracy.

“People’s Control” in Cochabamba, Bolivia
After the Water War, during which residents of Cochabamba expelled a Bechtel-led water privatization from their city, civil society was determined to create a water delivery model that was neither private nor governed by the state, which had invited the privateers to Bolivia in the first place.

Alternatives to Privatization: The Power of Participation
This article explores participatory and cooperative models of water service delivery in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, and in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Keeping It Public in Bogotá
In Bogotá, the Colombian capital with a population of 6.5 million, a series of progressive mayors led reforms in the late 1990s that turned the focus of public service to the city’s poorest neighborhoods, and subsidized potable water and sewerage service. As a result, despite demands of privatization from the World Bank, the Water and Sewerage Company of Bogotá (EAAB) remained in public hands while raising the proportion of households with potable water from 78% in 1993 to 95% in 2001. 

Reclaiming Public Water! Participatory Alternatives to Privatisation
Important lessons can be learned from people-centred, participatory public models that are in place or under development in cities like Dhaka (Bangladesh), Cochabamba (Bolivia), Savelugu (Ghana) and Recife (Brazil), to mention a few. In these cities, public water supply has been improved through increased popular control and other democratic reforms. In all their diversity, these models provide inspiring and viable alternatives both to failing state-run utilities and profit-driven private water management.

Water Privatization Rejected in El Alto (en espanol)
In January 2005 a popular uprising based in El Alto, Bolivia forced the government to terminate its contract with the water transnational Suez. The company had failed to provide water to more than 200,000 people, required connection fees of US$445 (when the minimum wage in Bolivia is US$60 a month), and refused to listen to the grievances of the people. The people of El Alto, Bolivia are demanding a new community-run public company with citizen participation, democratic governance and full transparency. The proposal for an alternative, public company can be viewed in Spanish here.

    » cmep | Water | alts

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