Brief Analysis of Water Privatization and NGOs

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Water Privatization: A Solution or a Curse: A final caveat to the water crisis discussion is the topic of water privatization. This is a hotly debated topic amongst NGOs. Most NGOs believe that water is a basic human right, therefore, it should be a resource doled out by governments, not for profit entities. However, there is also an argument that for profits generally are able to “do things better” then governments. This is a divisive issue within the world.

    There are many entities which believe that because water is a fundamental human right, it should never be handled by the private sector.  In the 1990s there was a big shift towards water privatization efforts with the hope and promise of delivering better and more efficient water systems to developing nations.  However, as we sit here, a decade and a half later, according to some researchers, there has been very little progress in the way of bettering the distribution of or access to clean water  .   The authors of this particular article argue that the problem is not that for profit entities cannot distribute a public good, but rather, the magnitude of a sustainable solution for the water crisis supersedes that of any for-profit or governmental entity .   The solution, according to Budds and McGranahan is that local governments and NGOs should not be completely opposed to private assistance, but realistic about the limits of for profit entities.   The privatization debate is difficult because there are different vested interests which are seeking self protection.  For example, private companies want to profit from expanding their business by going to work for governments to bring water to people.  Secondly, public service employees are leery of the influx of private companies as a matter of job security.  Add to that, the debate of profiting from a public good and the debate because multi-faceted and difficult to ascertain the correct conclusions.  
    The history of private sector involvement with water is interesting.  During the 19th century, in developing Europe and North America, private companies were at the forefront of development of water systems .  However, as the role of government changed, water became defined as a public good which should be handled by the governing body.   In the 1970s and 1980s as progress in Africa and South American lagged behind that of Europe and North America, the move towards free market ideology became a defining principle in the water crisis.  Therefore, there was experimentation of privatization of water in South America.   While the promise of privatization was great, the actual delivery was less than stellar.  For example, there is an overwhelming lack of evidence which finds that more people in South America have cleaner water, lower costs or better access to water .  Therefore, there is a history of water privatization not working as well as the proponents of such thought it would.   As a result, there is still a large debate over the prospect of privatization of water in Africa.   The aforementioned was a mere snapshot of the privatization debate, however it is an interesting topic to be examined in order to understand the water crisis fully. The debate of privatization will certainly continue for many years, but it seems that both sides need to focus on how they can benefit each other rather than stand as opposites.  

References: Budds, Jessica and McGranahan, Gordon. “Are the Debates on Water Privatization Missing the Point? Experiences from Africa, Asia and Latin America.” Paper taken from International Institute for Environment and Development, London. October 2003.

Loftus, Alexander J and McDonald, David A. “Of Liquid Dreams: A Political Ecology of Water Privatization in Buenos Aires.” Development Studies Programme, Ontario Canada. October 2001

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