Governments are cause of the world’s water crisis. Markets improve access, health and the environment, says new book
IPN Press release
London: Ahead of the Fourth World Water Forum (16-22 March, Mexico City), the Sustainable Development Network – a coalition of over 30 non-governmental organisations - has launched a new book, The Water Revolution: Practical Solutions to Water Scarcity.
The book’s contributors show with practical examples how governments have made water artificially scarce. Where markets have been allowed -- where water is owned and traded -- access is increased, especially for the poor, whose health is consequently improved, and superior outcomes have been achieved for conservation and the environment.
The book’s contributors examine both urban and rural water issues at a global level, as well as in Argentina, Chile, China, Ecuador, Africa, India and the United Kingdom.
Kendra Okonski, editor of The Water Revolution, observed, “In most poor countries today, governments perpetuate water scarcity – which harms both people and the environment. They fail to provide water to the poor, but provide massive subsidies for water use by vested interests, such as big landowners.”
She explained, “It is morally offensive that Africa’s governments supply water to the elite, but deny water to millions of poor urban residents. Opponents of private water seem oblivious to the fact that poor people – whether in New Delhi or Nairobi – solve government-induced water scarcity by using markets to deliver water and sewerage services to each other.” She continued, “In Chile and Argentina, private water provision has had enormous health and economic benefits for the poor.”
Okonski continued, citing another example from the book: “In rural India, the government has built huge dams that resulted in large pools of evaporating stagnant water – perfect repositories for malarial mosquitoes to breed. In Gujarat, the people have taken back their water by building microdams, which trap rainwater and allow it to percolate into the groundwater, which is an excellent natural storage facility. This is a great example of the inventiveness of the private sector even in spite of government intervention.”
“Meanwhile, in urban India and Africa, the government simply doesn’t supply water to peripheral areas because it doesn’t recognise them as legitimate. So, local entrepreneurs supply water and sanitation services – at a profit – to the community.”
Okonski concluded, “Solutions to water scarcity in the 21st Century lie in extending markets and other decentralised arrangements – and eliminating government policies which distort and undermine markets. Because markets enable people more fully to value water, they harness people’s entrepreneurial initiative, creating more dynamic, innovative and superior uses of water.”
FACTS AND FIGURES FROM THE WATER REVOLUTION
Contributors to The Water Revolution show that using market institutions to manage water produces superior benefits for human health, economic growth and the environment:
- Agriculture accounts for 66 percent of freshwater withdrawals and 85 percent of freshwater consumption. In many countries, agricultural water receives massive government subsidies; reforms in this area alone would create massive improvements.
- Private water provision in Latin America has had extensive benefits:
- Chile’s market-driven water system has achieved nearly universal access to water. Between 1970 and 1994, household access to water increased in rural areas from 27 percent to 94 percent, and from 63 percent to 99 percent in urban areas.
- Child mortality due to water-related illnesses dropped significantly after cities in Argentina privatised 30 percent of their municipal water systems in 1990.
- Governments deny the poor access to municipal water systems. In response, entrepreneurial members of the world’s poorest people operate in the informal economy to solve this government-induced water scarcity:
- The municipal water system of Delhi, India, produces inadequate enough water to cope with demand, and the water system is gravity-fed. No household has 24-hour access to water, and 30 per cent of households do not have municipal water taps. Small-scale entrepreneurs in slums use markets to sell water to fellow residents.
- In nearly every African city, informal entrepreneurs serve fellow residents of slums and shantytowns, by selling water and sewerage services.
- Top-down approaches to water management, such as that adopted by China, have usually exacerbated water scarcity, pollution and resulted in huge losses of water.
- Ecuador’s subsidised irrigation throughout the country benefits wealthy landowners who are politically-connected, at the expense of poor taxpayers and the environment.
- For more than a decade, a mass-movement in rural areas of Gujarat, India, has collected rainwater to recharge groundwater aquifers, and reasserted riparian rights. This creative, innovative and decentralised solution addressed water scarcity which had been induced by the government’s obsession with large dams on rivers.
- Even privatised water delivery in developed countries such as the UK needs reform. The 1989 privatisation of the water and sewerage industry in England and Wales has produced enormous benefit for consumers. But this regulated market cannot respond in a dynamic fashion to address relative water scarcity. Meanwhile, people in Scotland are captives of the region’s nationalised water system.