Thirsty for Solutions
Sunday, March 22, 2009
The world's water deserves better management, say two new IPN studies.
The World Water Forum rained down on Istanbul this week – with associated traffic congestion and protests. The police responded … by firing water cannons, according to Hurriyet Daily News. This is the fifth such Forum (they occur every three years) and each has attracted a band of activists who travel across the globe to protest against globalisation and privatisation. Yawn. Whoosh.
Meanwhile, hundreds of sincere participants attend the Forum because they are interested in developing, understanding and applying innovative solutions to the world’s water problems.
According to the UN, approximately one billion people currently lack regular access to clean water, while 2.6 billion lack sewerage. Coming from the UN, these data are highly suspect, but it remains the case that access to clean water and sewerage in many countries is very poor indeed. For the most part this is a consequence of government failure.
Governments around the world claim to provide water – and even charge citizens for the privilege – but often the taps remain dry. In many places, especially the shanties and slums that represent a substantial proportion of the population of many cities in poor countries, governments simply don’t provide any water at all. Nor do they remove the sewage.
At the same time, farmers are given subsidised water, which reduces their incentives to use water efficiently (agriculture accounts for 66 percent of freshwater withdrawals and 85 percent of freshwater consumption). Governments thereby exacerbate water scarcity (see Associated Press article) – but most policymakers do not dare to suggest policies, such as cost-recovery pricing, let alone the introduction of true markets, which might shake up the status quo. Improving access to and management of the world’s water requires concerted effort, creative solutions, and – above all – changes in policy.
With that in mind, IPN – in conjunction with 18 partner think tanks – has launched two new studies on the issue of water management. The first examines oft-repeated – but largely fallacious – claims about the failure of private water provision in Cochabamba, Bolivia. It goes beyond hyperbole to examine the real causes of the failure – including local corruption and vested interests. The second examines the private water management system in Chile – an example that other countries might emulate. Chile adopted a comprehensive approach to water reform, creating a far more sustainable use of water, nearly universal water connection, and a dramatic improvement in sewage treatment – all in only a few years.
- The Cochabamba "Water War" - An Anti-Privatisation Poster Child?
by David Bonnardeaux (Spanish language version)
- Chile: A Dynamic Water Market
by Maria de la Luz Domper, Libertad y Desarrollo, (Spanish language version)
- Related material: Chapters from The Water Revolution, edited by Kendra Okonski; Water Provision for the Poor by Alex Nash; Is water a human right?