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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:
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.”