Water privatisation is in retreat. Water and wastewater is returning to local authority ownership across the world.
The Public Services International Research Unit (PSIRU), Multinational Observatory, Municipal Services Project (MSP) and European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) have released new research on the growing wave of cities worldwide that are taking previously privatised water supply and sanitation services back under public control, in a process called remunicipalisation.
Over the last 15 years, 235 cases of water remunicipalisation have been recorded in 37 countries, impacting on more than 100 million people. Moreover the pace of remunicipalisation is accelerating dramatically, doubling in the 2010-2015 period compared with 2000-2010.
After huge problems in the developing world, private companies have been shifting their efforts to the developed world. It is therefore interesting that recent remunicipalisation is concentrated in high-income countries, with 184 cases compared to 51 in low- and middle-income countries. The great majority have taken place in two countries: France (94), home of two of the world’s private water companies, Suez and Veolia, and the United States (58).
Transnational Institute water expert Satoko Kishimoto said: "This report shows that water privatisation, which has been promoted so heavily in recent years, is increasingly being rejected by cities worldwide after years of failed promises, poor services and high prices. The pendulum is swinging back in favour of public water, because of the strong evidence that remunicipalisation brings immediate cost savings, operational effectiveness, increased investment, higher levels of transparency and accountability."
The former Deputy Mayor of Paris Anne Le Strat, who was behind the flagship 2010 remunicipalisation of water in the French capital added; "Moreover, public water operators are now joining forces within and across countries to support and learn from each other so we can achieve the human right to water for all."
The book Our public water future: The global experience with remunicipalisation comes out as global leaders are gathering for the World Water Forum, which is dominated by private water operators and has been a key proponent of water privatisation in recent years.
The delivery of clean water and sanitation also has to be seen the context of a global water crisis with supplies running dry at an alarming rate. The world’s population continues to soar but that rise in numbers has not been matched by an accompanying increase in supplies of fresh water.
The consequences are proving to be profound. Across the globe, reports reveal huge areas in crisis today as reservoirs and aquifers dry up. More than a billion individuals, one in seven people on the planet, now lack access to safe drinking water.
We should therefore be doubly grateful that we live in a wet country with a public water service. And we want to keep it that way. Well, the public service bit at least!