Water for Life
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Water for Life

By Mischa Balen, Fellow, Globalisation Institute ( http://www.globalisationinstitute.org/ )  

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Over a billion people worldwide do not have access to safe drinking water, and 2.6 billion people have no sanitation facilities. More than two million people die each year from diarrhoea, and over six million people are blind as a result of trachoma, a disease strongly related to lack of face washing. In Sub Saharan Africa, 42% of the population lacks access to decent water.

Other diseases which are caused by water poverty include scabies, typhoid and malaria. The need for clean water to prevent the spread of these and other diseases is therefore paramount. This is one of the greatest problems humanity faces. It is a problem which is taking place under the auspices of the state sector: 95% of the world’s population gets its water from state-run services. Government provision in water has overseen millions of deaths through poor quality and lack of sanitation.

The Rimac River, which acts as the main water supply in Peru’s capital city, Lima, was polluted by sewage which had not been treated properly. Not only did this harm animals and other assorted wildlife, but also harmed the citizens of Lima. Every second, 18 000 litres of wastewater flows into either the Rimac or the Pacific Ocean . Of this only one fifth is treated. What is worse, it appears that funds are still not available to tackle this problem. This a typical example of the environment disaster of nationalised water.

Private companies, conversely, do have an incentive to prevent rivers and other sources of water from becoming polluted. If their water supplies become contaminated, then they risk provoking consumer unrest, being fined by the regulator, and the costs of clean-up. Rather than spending a lot of money on a clean up operation, it makes better economic sense for companies to protect the environment in the first place. Similarly, private companies, because their bottom line is at stake, will take legal action against others polluting water sources they use.

In the vast majority of cases, where the private sector has been called upon, it has delivered the goods – even in cases decried by critics as ‘failures’. The most effective and efficient way to increase water access to countries in the developing world is to make good use of the private sector. The investment, technology and expertise which private companies can bring are integral to sensible development strategies. The private sector has increased access to water, it has helped to avert conflicts, and it has made a significant contribution to economic growth in many developing states.

For a copy of Mischa Balen’s report, Water for Life: The case for private sector investment and management in developing country water systems, click here (http://www.globalisationinstitute.org/publications/waterforlife.pdf ).
 

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Last modified: March 18, 2006