Public or Private Water Management?

Published: January 10, 2004
Authors: Gary Wolff, Meena Palaniappan

Public or Private Water Management?
Cutting the Gordian Knot

‘‘Public versus private’’ is not the bright line that separates efficient from inefficient management. Like Alexander the Great, who ‘‘untied’’ the Gordian Knot with one slice from a sharp knife, we believe that the real solution to water problems worldwide has been overshadowed by the ideological debate between advocates and opponents of privatization.

The questions we need to answer are these: How can we provide safe, affordable water services for all people? How can we better involve the community in decisions about water resources and water systems? How can contracts be designed that effectively lay out the responsibilities of all parties? How can we ensure that the economic incentives for private or public entities are aligned with our social goals?

In the end, it doesn’t matter to a resident of a settlement in Bombay or a suburb of Chicago whether a public or private company owns or manages the facilities that deliver clean and affordable water to their taps. What does matter is that people—wealthy and poor—have the water they need, that the environment gets a fair share, that profit levels and prices are reasonable, and that ambient water quality is protected for future generations. […]

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