No single course for providing water

TNI publications challenge anti-privatisation with alternatives

23 March 2012
Claire Provost

Two new books seek to challenge the claims that anti-privatisation activists present infinite criticisms but few alternatives.


Two new books seek to challenge the claims that anti-privatisation activists present infinite criticisms but few alternatives.

Launched in Marseille last week, Remunicipalisation: putting water back into public hands, looks at how unequal access, unkept investment promises, environmental hazards, and scandalous profit margins have prompted cities around the world – including Paris, Buenos Aires, and Dar es Salaam – to regain control of their privatised water services. Alternatives to privatisation: public options for essential services in the global south, which will be launched in London this Friday, is a broader global survey of alternatives in the water, energy, and health sectors, looking at cases in 40 countries.

Earlier this month, the UN announced that the international target to halve the number of people without access to safe drinking water had been met, five years before the 2015 deadline. If correct, this would still leave 783 million people worldwide without access to safe water, while billions continue to lack basic sanitation. There is no doubt that significant investments will be needed to meet these needs. Companies argue they are best-suited to fill the funding gap but, time after time, privatisation, and the more innocuous-sounding "public-private partnerships", have meant that corporations reap high profits while governments and local communities are left to shoulder significant social and environmental risks.

All heads are now turned towards Rio+20, the UN conference on sustainable development in June, and some particularly heated debates have already come to the fore.

This week, 22 independent UN experts warned that human rights obligations and accountability concerns could be sidelined on the road to Rio. At the WWF, ministers released a controversial declaration that activists said focused on investment and new technologies while failing to reaffirm the UN declared rights to water and sanitation.

Debates on the "green economy", and the "financialisation" of water and other natural resources, continue. But, it seems, a key distinction between last week's WWF and Fame meetings is how decisions on water policy and the future of essential services should be made. There is growing discontent, for example, with the centralised power structures in which "solutions" are often proposed and top-down, one-size-fits-all, blueprints devised. So will Rio+20 be another game of "show and tell" or will we see a bit more of that unruly "democracy-of-action"?

Read the full article here

Recent publications from Public Services & Democracy

Polarising Development – Introducing Alternatives to Neoliberalism and the Crisis

Social movements and critical scholars have triggered renewed debate on possible different futures for on developmental change. They  are no longer tethered to the pole of ‘reform and reproduce’. A new pole of ‘critique and strategy beyond’ neoliberal capitalism has emerged

Our Public Water Future

Privatisation on the backfoot as new book shows that the growing wave of cities putting water back under public control has now spread to 37 countries impacting 100 million people.

Rethinking Corporatization and Public Services in the Global South

After three decades of privatization and anti-state rhetoric, government ownership and public management are back in vogue.

Organising workers’ Counter-power in Italy and Greece

Austerity in Greece and Italy has struck workers' particularly hard, but it has also been the context for radical innovations in ’organising the unorganised’, building new kinds of work spaces and even taking control of production.