Water Support Fading for Private Water Aid

Monday, March 20, 2006

For more than a decade, the idea that private companies would be able to bring water to the world’s poor has been a mantra of development policies promoted by international lending agencies and many governments.

It has not happened. In the past decade, according to a private water suppliers’ trade group, private companies have managed to extend water service to just 10 million people, less than 1 percent of those who need it. Some 1.1 billion people still lack access to clean water, the United Nations says.

The reality behind those numbers is hitting home. At the fourth World Water Forum, a six-day conference here of industry, governments and nongovernmental organizations, there is little talk of privatization.

Instead, many people here want to return to relying on the local public utilities that still supply 90 percent of the water to those households that have it. (…)”The companies have lost tons of dough and tons of respect,” Boys said. “They are pulling out.”

Nowhere has that been more evident than in Bolivia, where, in the city of El Alto, residents have been fighting a subsidiary of the French company Suez. The government is now negotiating for Suez to leave, arguing that it did not extend service to people too poor to pay enough to make it profitable.

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Source: International Herald Tribune (link opens in a new window)