To Privatize Or Not To Privatize

Governments for years have been tossing around the idea of privatizing water, which means instead of water being publicly distrubuted, it would now be sold in the private sector by corporations. Our water system today is a blend of both: we have our public water lines and we have our brand-name bottled water. But is privatization beneficial to us, or way too risky?

Citizens protest water privatization

Many developing countries have lived for years with no clean water, and are just now receiving means of getting it. This has much to do with private funding, where corporations buy water to sell to these parts of the world where the public system and government has failed to deliver. Public water in government control overseas has consistently been abused and mishandled, resulting in water shortages and sanitation problems. Without these companies, the future may hold no water for these citizens at all (2). 

In the developed world, people argue that paying for water makes consumers more aware of conservation and protection. After all, you're less likely to waste something you paid $3.99 a bottle for than the public water you got out of the tap. Water in Canada is wasted because we have lots of it, and it's cheap in the public system. Paying for water in the private sector may lead to less water consumption by people in the developed world altogether (1). The argument also stands that in the scarce-water future we are rapidly approaching, the only way to assure the entire world has access to water is through the corporate water trade. "Scarcity is not a quantity issue, it's a distribution issue," one law professor says (2). Like oil, the water would be moved all around the world as it was traded, unlike the public system where most water is static. Privatization would make sure places that needed water would get it (3).

But what about the people who can't afford it? Opponents of privatization say that the transferring of water to the private sector will leave the poor high and dry. They say water should be "a right, not a commodity" (click here to see what Nestle has to say on the matter). Privatizing water would make it much harder for people on low income to get the amount of water they need. 

And of course, the "water industry" would not be exempt from the controversy and issues surrounding other industries, such as oil and meat production. No one can say that companies aren't greedy, and to suggest they will put the greater good before monetary gain is ludicrous. And since there is no alternative to water, unlike other products, people would have to choose either paying large sums of money or have no water to survive; after all, global water consumption is expected to triple within the next forty years (2). 

Privatization has been attempted in the developing world, and from what we can see it has done more harm than good (see: Bolivia). Nothing would prevent these companies from inflating prices, since demand would be high, and eventually creating a monopoly is too big for even the government to control, like the oil industry. Local jobs at public/municipal water plants would be lost or outsourced. Larger centers would get top priority, leaving behind small towns and rural residents who would not make up enough of the "market" to pay attention to. Water is becoming increasingly scarce; if privatization succeeds, only the rich will survive. Keeping water public means keeping the government supplying water to everyone, without a motive for profit (1).

So, do we privatize water? Do the benefits outweigh the risks? Tell us in the comments section.

Works Cited:
(1) "Privatization of Water." World Savvy Moniter, n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2013.
(2)Macdonald, Nancy. "Is the privatization of water the right thing to do? - Environment, Science & Technology -" - Canada News, World News, Politics, Business, Culture, Health, Environment, Education . Macleans, 3 Sept. 2009. Web. 12 Mar. 2013.
(3) Richter, Brian. "Water Privatization: Let’s Cut the Hysteria – News Watch." News Watch - National Geographic News Blog. National Geographic, 1 Nov. 2012. Web. 12 Mar. 2013.

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