Water Privatization Sweeps World Despite Problems

Water will be to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th, predicted Fortune Magazine in May 2000, and it is shaping up to be a prescient claim. Multinational corporations now run the water systems that provide for 7 percent of the world’s population, with analysts expecting that number to rise to 17 percent by 2015. Private water management is a $200 billion business, and if the World Bank — which aggressively promotes water privatization — is to be believed, it will be a $1 trillion business by 2021. This would be good news for the fifth of the world’s population that lacks access to clean water if there were evidence that corporations provided better or cheaper service than governments, but such evidence is conspicuously lacking. Too often, privatization leads to a drop in water quality and a rise in prices, sometimes fueling citizen protest. To insulate themselves from complaints, many water corporations lobby heavily for immunity from lawsuits and legislation that would prevent municipalities from backing out of contracts, no matter how miserable the results.