Privatizing Water

Privatizing Water: Governance Failure and the World's Urban Water Crisis

KAREN BAKKER
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 296
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.ctt7z9jv
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  • Book Info
    Privatizing Water
    Book Description:

    Water supply privatization was emblematic of the neoliberal turn in development policy in the 1990s. Proponents argued that the private sector could provide better services at lower costs than governments; opponents questioned the risks involved in delegating control over a life-sustaining resource to for-profit companies. Private-sector activity was most concentrated-and contested-in large cities in developing countries, where the widespread lack of access to networked water supplies was characterized as a global crisis.

    In Privatizing Water, Karen Bakker focuses on three questions: Why did privatization emerge as a preferred alternative for managing urban water supply? Can privatization fulfill its proponents' expectations, particularly with respect to water supply to the urban poor? And, given the apparent shortcomings of both privatization and conventional approaches to government provision, what are the alternatives? In answering these questions, Bakker engages with broader debates over the role of the private sector in development, the role of urban communities in the provision of "public" services, and the governance of public goods. She introduces the concept of "governance failure" as a means of exploring the limitations facing both private companies and governments.

    Critically examining a range of issues-including the transnational struggle over the human right to water, the "commons" as a water-supply-management strategy, and the environmental dimensions of water privatization-Privatizing Water is a balanced exploration of a critical issue that affects billions of people around the world.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6361-7
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. PREFACE
    (pp. vii-xii)
  5. ABBREVIATIONS AND ACRONYMS
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. DEFINING “PRIVATIZATION”: A NOTE ON TERMINOLOGY
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  7. Introduction: PRIVATIZATION AND THE URBAN WATER CRISIS
    (pp. 1-16)

    The events in The Hague are an example of the issues at stake in debates over water privatization and the world’s urban water crisis. These debates have been heated, in part, because of the dramatic increase over the past two decades in private sector control and management of urban water-supply systems. During the 1990s, some of the world’s largest multinationals (Bechtel, Enron, Vivendi) began expanding operation and ownership of water supply systems on a global scale: the largest private water company now has over 100 million customers worldwide. Although the vast majority of water supply systems around the world were...

  8. Part I. Development, Urbanization, and the Governance of Thirst

    • 1 GOVERNANCE FAILURE: REFRAMING THE URBAN WATER SUPPLY CRISIS
      (pp. 19-51)

      Consider the following story of three neighbors on the outskirts of one of the world’s megacities. It suggests that concepts like “public” and “private” are of little use in describing the reality of the daily struggle for water supply in much of the world. It also suggests that communities play an important role in the complicated web of relationships that mediate water supply access in cities.

      Ani lives in a gated community, with a direct road connection to the highway that runs into the center of the city. Like her neighbors, she used to be connected to the municipal water...

    • 2 MATERIAL EMBLEMS OF CITIZENSHIP: CREATING PUBLIC WATER
      (pp. 52-77)

      The distinction between “public” and “private” which dominates the water privatization debate is, in fact, a relatively recent invention. This chapter presents a historical perspective on urban water supply, beginning with the “industrialization” of water supply that took place over the course of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In the words of historian Jean-Pierre Goubert, water was literally conquered through new hydraulic technologies, which supported rapidly rising rates of consumption in both developed and developing countries.¹ Water supply infrastructure—and associated household technologies dependent on running water in large quantities—became widespread, and were associated with civic life; hence,...

    • 3 WATERING THE THIRSTY POOR: THE WATER PRIVATIZATION DEBATE
      (pp. 78-107)

      As the Biwater case suggests, water privatization inspires fierce controversy. Those opposed to privatization argue that profit-driven management will not improve water supply access; that it is unethical to make a profit supplying people with a resource essential for life, ecological health, and human dignity; and that private management will create environmental harm (through, for example, worsening water scarcity and pollution).¹¹ Proponents of privatization argue, in contrast, that introducing private management of urban water supply networks is an urgently needed strategy of “revolutionary change,” which is our best option for supplying water to the world’s urban poor.¹² Commercializing water, they...

    • 4 CITIZENS WITHOUT A CITY: THE TECHNO-POLITICS OF URBAN WATER GOVERNANCE
      (pp. 108-132)
      Michelle Kooy

      How and why do water supply systems come to be fragmented? In this chapter, we attempt to answer this question through a case study of Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. In essence, our argument is that both governments and private providers fail in important (sometimes similar, sometimes different) ways. This position is at odds with the conventional positions taken in the water privatization debate, in which blame is usually attributed to either public or private providers. Critics of government cite, for example, inattention to urban water supply issues by political elites, or lack of public finance for investment, or inefficient...

  9. Part II. Beyond Privatization:: Debating Alternatives

    • 5 PROTESTING PRIVATIZATION: TRANSNATIONAL STRUGGLES OVER THE HUMAN RIGHT TO WATER
      (pp. 135-161)

      The human right to drinking water is perhaps one of the most disputed issues within development debates at the start of the twenty-first century. For many, it comes as a surprise to learn that a right to water is not specified in any of the primary United Nations conventions on human rights.² Some governments (including the Netherlands and the United Kingdom) express their public commitment for a human right to water, and a few (such as France, South Africa, and Uruguay) have embedded the right in legislation.³ But they are the exception, and some governments (such as Canada) have rejected...

    • 6 COMMONS VERSUS COMMODITIES: THE AMBIGUOUS MERITS OF COMMUNITY WATER-SUPPLY MANAGEMENT
      (pp. 162-189)

      The past few years have witnessed a surge of calls in support of community water supply. Appeals to the “water commons,” calls for “water democracy,” and campaigns for the community control of water supply are examples of the central role that community (however ill defined the term might be) plays in the vision of antiprivatization activists.¹ The concept of community has also come to play a greater role in mainstream development policy, even on the part of proponents of the commercialization and privatization of water. Although community provision was largely marginal to the early arguments of those in favor of...

    • 7 POLITICS AND BIOPOLITICS: DEBATING ECOLOGICAL GOVERNANCE
      (pp. 190-212)

      Water is both political and biopolitical. Flowing through the hydrological cycle, water links individual bodies through the cycling of waters from one organism and one ecosystem to another. As it cycles, water transgresses geopolitical boundaries, defies jurisdictions, pits upstream against downstream users, and creates competition and conflict over its uses as a source (or input to processes of modernization, industrialization, urbanization) and sink (for the disposal of what are colloquially known as the “effluents of affluence”). Water is thus intensely political in a conventional sense: it is implicated in contested relationships of power and authority.

      But water is also biopolitical:...

  10. CONCLUSION: BEYOND PRIVATIZATION
    (pp. 213-228)

    Porto Alegre evokes an elusive goal of much water policy debate: urban water supply that is (relatively speaking) environmentally sustainable, socially acceptable, and economically viable. It is also emblematic of key arguments made throughout this book. Porto Alegre’s experience suggests that the complex reality of urban water-supply access refutes conventional notions of “public” versus “private.” It also suggests that the urban water crisis is not solely due to the misdeeds of government or the private sector but also to failures of governance and collective action. This, in turn, speaks to more general debates about deliberative democracy; the respective roles of...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 229-258)
  12. REFERENCES
    (pp. 259-296)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 297-304)