There has been some symbolic progress at the international level. In July 2010, the United Nations passed a resolution declaring that access to clean water and sanitation is a basic human right. A few months later, the UN Human Rights Council passed a similar resolution. These resolutions underline the importance of universal access. Action at the national and local levels is needed to actually make it happen. It will require a new commitment to public water and sanitation utilities.
The 30 year experiment with privatisation has largely failed. Profit maximisation, competition, private capital and private innovation are not the tools needed to ensure universal access. The private sector has a role to play, as a vendor of products and services to the public utilities. However, the fascination with private management and concession contracts has mainly benefitted shareholders, not the people who need clean water.
PSI and its affiliated unions around the world are strongly resisting the privatisation agenda. PSI carries the message of the failure of privatisation into meetings of the privateers themselves, including the development banks, the OECD, the World Water Forum, and a range of other venues.
The inevitable answer to the question of assured universal access lies in the public sector. PSI is mobilising affiliates and allies to advocate for the appropriate policies. We are also working with NGOs, public utility managers, and elected officials to devise new ways to improve the performance of public utilities.
For example, PSI advocates public-public partnerships and twinning among public utilities. This is a complex endeavour, but it has proven its merit in a range of countries. Although we have succeeded in raising the profile of this policy option, especially in the international arena, it needs many more champions and advocates at the local and national levels to overcome the predictable opposition from wealthy and influential multinational corporations.
PSI affiliated unions will need to mobilise their members, and reach out to community groups in order to create the political pressure needed to counter the self-interest of the privateers.