Last Thursday was the United Nation’s World Water Day. The day is meant to promote awareness about water resources, scarcity and development. This year’s theme was “coping with water scarcity.”
On Thursday, I decided to follow the U.N.‘s advice and promote awareness about water scarcity. I skirted up to two of my liberal classmates and announced that it was World Water Day. My colleagues were not impressed.
“Oh, it is ‘look how many poor people have died from lack of clean water day,’” one retorted. I was pleased that she was familiar with the issue and excited to tell her about the major successes water privatization have had in solving the problem of scarcity. I didn’t get far. I have had this reaction from liberals before.
I would think that everyone, regardless of political affiliation, would place politics aside and work toward a viable solution to water scarcity, even if the solution didn’t fit into their political ideology. I doubt that all liberals place ideology above the poor, but I am beginning to think that a small number of influential people would rather capitalism take a hit than poor people get access to water. It seems that these people are able to instill enough doubt as to the benefits of privatization that those who would rather find an anti-capitalist solution are able to justify their opposition.
I know, it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but the documented merits of privatization are so strong that I simply can’t think of any other reason for opposition. It would be impossible to show all this evidence in a short column, but I will explain the basics. I encourage every reader to research this issue on his or her own; you too will see the overwhelming evidence in favor of privatization.
Governments often fail to deliver safe water to their citizens for two reasons: inefficiency and a lack of resources for investment. A corporation can solve these problems. Since corporations receive a profit dependent upon efficiency, service, number of customers and often times in accordance with various regulations, they have strong incentives to provide clean, safe water to all citizens at the lowest possible cost. This will leave more room for profits. They also usually have a better sense of how to run the utility than a state government does, which also increases efficiently.
In addition, corporations have the finances to make much needed investment in infrastructure. In many developing nations, rural people have no access to the water supply because pipes have not been built. Pipes also need constant maintenance. When they break, water leaks into the earth - wasted - at the expense of the people. By allowing corporations to profit from water distribution, they have incentives to invest in infrastructure. Examples of places in which water privatization has resulted in greater access to clean and safe water include Cote D’Ivoire, Buenos Aires, Senegal, Guinea, Amman and Manila.
A key note to remember that I’ve found few people realize is privatization more often involves a public-private partnership than transfer of water ownership to corporations. This makes it difficult for even the most corrupt corporation to exploit the poor.
Those ideologues who prefer to stay true to their anti-capitalist sentiments rather than recognize the merits of privatization do so by citing case studies that invariably only include information on price as evidence for privatization failure. However, price is not the only issue. Sanitation and distribution are equally, if not more, important. If a government is able to provide dirty water to half its citizens at no cost and a corporation is able to provide clean water to three-fourths of the citizens for 10 cents a barrel, I would argue that the corporation is doing a better job. In many of the Third World countries where privatization has taken effect, the urban populace protests what it believes to be an unfair increase in its water prices. The liberal media highlights these protests. However, it is seldom mentioned that these increases are being used, alongside corporate investment, to bring water to the people in rural areas. Before privatization and infrastructure investment, rural dwellers pay an average of 12 times the national price of water to middlemen who have to carry said water from the urban areas. Or worse, they have no access at all.
The day a liberal comes up with a solution to water scarcity that works as well as privatization, I will gladly support it. However, as long as liberals order “more of the same” when a proven solution is right at their doorsteps, I will wonder if their commitment to ideology is overpowering their commitment to the poor.
For more information on water privatization as a solution to water scarcity, visit http://www.globalisationinstitute.org.
Erin Wildermuth is a senior in the School of International
Service and a libertarian columnist for The Eagle.