Are the debates on water privatization missing the point ?

by Jessica Budds and Gordon McGranahan
source : Environment&Urbanization, Vol 15, No 2, October 2003


This paper has two principal aims : first,to unravel some of the
arguments mobilized in the controversial privatization debate,and second,to review
the scale and nature of private sector provision of water and sanitation in Africa,
Asia and Latin America.Despite being vigorously promoted in the policy arena
and having been implemented in several countries in the South in the 1990s,priva-tization
has achieved neither the scale nor benefits anticipated.In particular,the
paper is pessimistic about the role that privatization can play in achieving the
Millennium Development Goals of halving the number of people without access to
water and sanitation by 2015.This is not because of some inherent contradiction
between private profits and the public good,but because neither publicly nor
privately operated utilities are well suited to serving the majority of low-income
households with inadequate water and sanitation,and because many of the barri-ers
to service provision in poor settlements can persist whether water and sanita-tion
utilities are publicly or privately operated.This is not to say that well-governed
localities should not choose to involve private companies in water and sanitation
provision,but it does imply that there is no justification for international agencies
and agreements to actively promote greater private sector participation on the
grounds that it can significantly reduce deficiencies in water and sanitation serv-ices
in the South.

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