An inspiring story of how women in a poor neighbourhood of Cochabamba, Bolivia used partnership and collaboration to provide water services when state, local governments and the private sector failed to deliver.
Business day Live - Water is an essential natural element, but around the world, it’s also an artificially endangered resource. That would explain why the parties represented at a recent international conference on water rights in Lagos ranged from remote towns with hand-pumped wells to modern public utilities in European cities. Precisely because water is universally in demand, it faces boundless threats of exploitation, in countries rich and poor.
The ground-breaking new Public-Public Partnership (PUP) between the
Argentinean public water utility Aguas Bonaerenses S.A. (ABSA) and
SEDAM, the provincial water utility of Huancayo (Peru) is an important
example of the growing trend of not-for-profit cooperation between
public utilities from the South.
TNI joined several NGOs and trade unions in calling on Andris Piebalgs (EU Commissioner for Development) to increase EU support for non-profit partnership water projects in Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries. These projects have proved to be highly successful but funding is under threat.
Public water operators and social movements from 90 countries gathered in Barcelona in mid-September to reflect on how to consolidate a public model of water provision and how to address critical issues of financing clean water for all.
A return to public forms of administration in water supplies is a phenomenon that has been spreading globally. Over the past 15 years almost 235 cities around the world, among them Paris, Berlin, Budapest, Buenos Aires and Kuala Lumpur have either terminated or have desisted from renewing the contracts with private concessionary companies. In the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and the Scandinavian countries, for example, water delivery is, by a tradition, almost 100 percent public.
In the last 15 years there have been at least 180 cases of water remunicipalisation in 35 countries, both in the global North and South, including high profile cases in Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa.
Despite large aid support, Ghana's privatised water utility AVRL consistently failed to meet its contractual commitments. Water is now back in state hands, but it will need increased investment and a vigilant civil society to deliver the services Ghanaians need.
The question of how to finance water and sanitation is crucial. Leading international institutions emphasise the role of private finance despite major concerns. The idea that private finance can bring the needed investment is remarkably persistent in global policy circles and leads to a dangerous lack of attention to the far more realistic option of mobilising public finance for infrastructure to provide essential services for all.
Samir Bensaid is author of the new chapter addition to the collaborative book project "Reclaiming Public Water"- part of TNI's Water Justice programme - which brings experience and insight from Morocco and Mauritania.
Instead of an ideological obsession with illusory private sector ‘solutions’, the international community would do better to support socially ambitious public operators working together in partnership with other public utilities.