Reclaiming Public Water

17 August 2006


Reclaiming Public Water
Achievements, Struggles and Visions from Around the World

Edited by Belén Balanyá, Brid Brennan, Olivier Hoedeman, Satoko Kishimoto and Philipp Terhorst
Transnational Institute and Corporate Europe Observatory, January 2005 (1rst edition) March 2005 (2nd edition)
ISBN: 90-71007-10-3

EU Must End Global Water Privatisation
RISQ (Review of International Social Questions), 28 January 2005

Public utilities hold key to securing clean water for all, according to new book launched at the World Social Forum today.

European governments must stop imposing water privatisation and instead support the expansion of public water supply in developing countries. This is the conclusion of Reclaiming Public Water a book launched at the World Social Forum (WSF) today. Challenging widespread prejudices, the book presents a wide range of examples of how public utility reform has resulted in major improvements in access to clean water and sanitation, not least for the poorest. The book is written by water utility managers and civil society campaigners from more than twenty countries.

Reclaiming Public Water was launched at a WSF seminar in Porto Alegre. This Brazilian city is a prime example of how public water delivery can be upgraded through democratic reforms, a common theme of the book. Expansion of clean water to the poorest happens against major odds, the new book stresses. Among the most serious obstacles for expanding public water delivery is the continued bias against public utilities in the policies of international financial institutions and donor governments.

"The European Commission and many European governments use international aid and trade policies to encourage privatisation", says Satoko Kishimoto of the Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute (TNI), co-author of the book. "It is high time for European governments to acknowledge the failure of privatisation and start providing ambitious support for public sector options", says Kishimoto. In numerous cities around the world, multinational water corporations - most of which are based in Europe - have failed to deliver the promised improvements while raising water tariffs far beyond the reach of poor households.

Reclaiming Public Water includes concrete recommendations for creating a more enabling environment for public water supply in developing countries. The book urges the EU to end the pro-privatisation bias in its aid flows and to convince the World Bank and other international financial institutions to do the same. Debt cancellation, the authors point out, could make vast amounts of domestic public funds available for expanding access to clean water. The book insists that the EU should end its push for including water in international trade agreements (for instance through the WTO’s GATS talks) and instead work to enshrine the human right to water in a legally binding UN convention.