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How privatisation undermines the human right to water

15 October 2011
Recent analysis published by Food & Water Europe shows that poor, rural communities with weak governments can better deliver safe, clean, affordable water to their residents by partnering with one another.

How privatisation undermines the human right to water

Entrusting water utility operation to private enterprises is an inadequate method of realizing the human right to water, finds analysis released today by the advocacy organization Food & Water Europe. Water = Life: How Privatization Undermines the Human Right to Water shows that poor, rural communities with weak governments can better deliver safe, clean, affordable water to their residents by partnering with one another.

“One year ago today the U.N. General Assembly declared that access to clean water and sanitation is an essential human right,” said Food & Water Europe Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “Yet the same communities that struggle to access this essential resource are also vulnerable to privatization schemes that hike up prices, and leave the poor unable to afford basic water services.”

Approximately 2.6 billion people worldwide lack access to basic sanitation services, according to the U.N. General Assembly. While the World Bank has recommended that governments partner with private companies to better deliver drinking and wastewater services to communities in developing areas, such approaches have, in many places, actually undermined the ability of the poor to access these services.

According to the analysis, private operation can create obstacles to the human right to affordable and accessible water and sanitation services:

  • In Guayaquil, Ecuador water prices increased by 180 percent after the water system there was taken over by Interagua, a subsidiary of Bechtel.
  • Customers of the private water provider in Jarkarta, Indonesia experienced a 258 percent increase in tariffs and poor water quality, while only 54 percent of low-income households were provided with new water connections.
  • A similar pattern of exclusion was also evident in La Paz and El Alto, Bolivia where a private contractor was accused of denying water service to 80,000 families. Many couldn’t afford the cost of setting up a connection, which for the poorest households cost the equivalent of more than two yeas of food expenses.

Lack of easy access to water carries severe public health consequences, resulting in 1.5 million deaths a year. High water prices brought on by privatized service deprive consumers of their right to water, often with disastrous health and social consequences. High water prices in Guayaquil, Ecuador were linked to poor water quality and hepatitis outbreaks.

While privatized water service has been shown to obstruct the human right to water, research shows that municipalities can deliver safe, affordable water to residents by pooling resources in public-public partnerships (PUPs). According to Food & Water Europe, PUPs can mitigate price increases and allow communities to avoid other problems associated with privatized water service because they eliminate the profit margin that is mandatory in privatized water delivery.

“Public-public partnerships can help improve system capacity and promote fair and equitable water service at a lower cost while upholding the basic rights of consumers to water. Yet their implementation could be greatly expedited with help from the development community. We call on the World Bank and the European Commission to invest in water and sanitation aid to help communities implement public-public partnerships, rather than encouraging the proliferation of privatized water,” said Hauter.”


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