Water privatisation has been a disaster in Britain, as infrastructure repairs to fix leaks are given lower priority than shareholders dividends. But this is in affluent Britain. How has water privatisation worked elsewhere?
During the 1980s, the Senegelese government of Abdou Diouf, followed the structural adjustment programmes dictated by the World bank. This fanaticism for privatization reached into even the most strategic state enterprises,and Senegal’s state water company SONES was broken into two and sold off. In the words of African journalist, Hawa Ba,: “Privatisation, it was said, would be the solution to the well-known dysfunctionality of the sector which was unable to meet populations’ growing needs. But instead of addressing the many well-reported barriers to access to water and electricity, these privatisations only served to render more precarious the position of the most disadvantaged in society. Access to water and to electricity has become more chancy, exacerbated by exorbitant rising costs … … “liberalisation” and “privatisation” fetishised language littered the discourse of decision-makers while at the same time creating a living death for whole populations.”
This is what happened when water was privatized:
Water inequality has increased, with supplies to rural areas being allowed to decline. The state has therefore encouraged discrimination against parts of its own population based upon what was most profitable and conveneient for a private multinational.
Communal fountains under local democratic control that provided free clean water to households, schools and communal facilities have been shut. As a result there was a decline in the use of water for domestic hygiene, and a rise in cholera in Senegal. The communal fountains also played an important social role, and this has been lost.
Schools often have no water now, and children are sent to local houses to get drinks or wash, exposing them to danger, including sexual abuse.
Only 60000 new connections have been made in 6 years, out of a potential of 10 million.
Water quality has declined so that people no longer have confidence that it is safe to drink, and bottled water is now preferred for drinking. Water supplies are frequently cut off for hours or days at a time.
Prices have gone through the roof, with a 40% increase in 2003 alone!
Even the World bank admits that the business model has been a failure, as private companies have no incentive for providing water to poor rural areas. But their remedy, is even more privatisation and competition, not for the water supplied to be returned to public ownership.
But there is another way. We are fortunate at the moment that Oscar Olivera, who led the revolt against water privatisation in Bolivia in 2000 is on tour in Britain. The revolt prevented the sale of Cochabamba’s water to Bechtel. The tour details can be found here.