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Last Updated: Friday, 8 August, 2003, 18:38 GMT 19:38 UK
Water for all, or for profit?
Katse Dam in Lesotho
Lesotho's Katse dam is Africa's largest
An attempt by the Ghana government to privatise water supply has met with fierce resistance.

A group called the National Coalition Against Water Privatisation has rejected a proposal by the World Bank which urges the Ghana Government to consider privatising water supply in the country.

In Lesotho, nearly 30,000 people relocated because of an ambitious project to export water to neighbouring South Africa are crying foul.

And this week, water experts are meeting in Stockholm, Sweden to examine the causes and effects of water-related issues globally.

The BBC's Africa Live asks whether privatisation means more investment and better access to water for all or is it a means of exploiting the poor.

If access to water is a fundamental human right, how safe is it to put the supply of water in the hands of the private sector?

Who should have the right to provide water in Africa, the government or private investors?

Join the debate Wednesday, 13 August at 1630 and 1830 GMT. Use the form to send us your comments, some of which will be published below. If you would like to take part in the discussion, e-mail us with your telephone number, which will not be published.


Your comments:

I think water should not be a for-profit commodity. It is the duty of every responsible government (local or national) to provide the best quality water for all. In this regard, it is the responsibility of all to contribute to the effort of government in providing drinking water. The production of portable water (obtaining, filtration, disinfection, distribution, and maintenance of the system) is a very expensive undertaking. The populace should be educated about this and other related facts before embarking on such development programs.
Arthur, USA/Sierra Leone

Water can be privatised only if there are customers who can pay for it. In third world countries the people cannot afford to pay and are going to steal water, what is a private company going to do? It is better to invite water purification companies to set-up plants in Africa and make potable water for sale.
Chandru Narayan, USA

As World bank debt repayment is the major cause of impoverishment of third world nations, it is not the most trustworthy source of advice in a matter such as this. Rest assured that water privatisation will financially decimate the ordinary citizens. As to the quality of the water - would the private enterprise in control be self policing? Of course! Does Ghana, or most other African nations, have the resources, legislation and validated independent assessors to provide a bona fide watchdog for the health and safety concerns of their citizens? I think not. Has anyone considered Government backed community based water treatment, distribution and irrigation schemes? Who would finance this if not the World Bank? Debt collection, water privatisation and shareholder profits versus the human right to water access and quality of life - what a conundrum!
Sue Lyons, Ireland

Millions of people in nearly all of the African countries do not receive their daily minimum clean water. Many still rely on rivers, ponds, dug wells, perennial or seasonal springs. The systems of production of the rural communities could also influence their water harvesting practices. I am not certain as to what percentage of African population is urban. And it is only in the urban centres that big piped water supply schemes are effected. It is very obvious that the urban water supply systems are failing in many countries. Whether the schemes are victims of under investment or lack of proactive management requires to be explained by professionals in the field. But I believe privatising water supply in Africa at this stage would be meaningless to the end user who may not even qualify as a citizen with the buying power.
Debebe D, UK

African governments might need to privatise their water supply through setting up parastatal bodies. That way, the government gets to regulate the price of the commodity, while the company becomes autonomous and operates more efficiently to ensure customers get the commodity.
Dean Mutitu, Kenya

Privatisation of water supply will be a blow to the poor, the very people who need help.
G. Matanga, US/Zambia

Privatisation of water supply will be a blow to the poor, the very people who need help. Agricultural development is essential in the fight against poverty in Africa. Rapid development of this sector depends on availability of affordable water resources. Such affordable resources cannot be developed by private companies intent on making large profits. African governments need to give high priority to optimal development and management of water resources using science-based solutions to complex hydrological issues. A partnership needs to be formed among governments, universities and water research institutes for the purpose of transferring hydrological science/engineering to the governments, and stretching affordable water supply to the poor and irrigated agriculture.
G. Matanga, US/Zambia

I would not seek to defend everything that is happening in Ghana, but I think it is quite right for water to be supplied by private companies. We have private water in the UK and no one complains. What is more, most African countries have socialist governments which, since the end of colonial rule, have failed to provide the public with a good clean supply of drinking water. If supplying water on a profit basis means that at least some of the people get clean tap water, then that has to be a good thing.
Quentin Hawkins, UK

Water is becoming a scarce natural resource and the next war could be a global one for water. Privatisation means exploitation of the poor by the rich, for the benefit of the haves, whether individual or national. Hence, water should become a resource controlled, managed and distributed by an International Water Organization for equitable, just and fair management & distribution of the same. It should be started now, without delay.
Srinivasan Pattoo, India

Privatisation will bring efficiency. Government run bodies, especially in Africa, because of rampant poverty, end up being inefficient and corrupt. Because no one has anything to lose, they pass the buck to the taxpayer who then passes the buck to that amorphous and unaccountable entity "the national failure suspense account" whose impact is seen in squalor and poverty. Market forces create wealth if adopted completely and not in half measures. Africa needs this and free trade very badly indeed. The UK relies on private water utilities, so does the US. I dare say they do not have the water problems we do. So let us copy what works instead of this left wing well-meaning but results-free approach.
Amoroso Gombe, Kenya

The issue about water privatisation in Ghana has been on the drawing board for a while. I cannot understand why World Bank thinks they can reduce the poverty in Africa by 'forcing' governments to privatise water supply. And who buys them? Multi-nationals from the West and do not tell me they are charity organisations. Do you believe in conspiracy theory? Hmm
Nana Gyaase, UK

Commercialising water supply is absolutely necessary in Africa for improving quality of services and water supply coverage.
Gerd Foerch, Germany

Commercialising water supply is absolutely necessary in Africa for improving quality of services and water supply coverage. Germany serves as a good example for high quality public water services. However, a blind privatisation of public water utilities (to attract private capital) will not lead to substantial improvement of services for the rural and urban poor. Without government control, neither public nor private utilities may sustain.
Gerd Foerch, Germany

If there is independent regulation, cost-reflective tariffs, and massive investment to expand the networks to reach the poorest, then the government should provide the water. But this is unrealistic. They are tied to political interests, unable to raise tariffs due to 'free' water stigma, and under other pressures for funding. Letting the private sector take over is the most promising way forward, but effective regulation is the crux.
Andrew Narracott, UK

Privatisation of water is the best way to ensure efficient and cheap distribution with the customer's best interests in mind.
David Voigt, US

Never surrender water, health, salt, clothes or shelter, these are life's essentials.
Michael Leone, Canada
The continued privatization of the basic needs for life is an assault on life itself. Greed is out of control as capitalism aka 'accumulationism', is morphing into a neo-feudal system where the upper class glutton and everybody else starves and thirsts. It is time to take a stand against organized greed. Never surrender water, health, salt, clothes or shelter, these are life's essentials. To profit from them only further exploits and enslaves people for fat rich people who are too lazy to cook for themselves and depend on economic slavery.
Michael Leone, Canada

Is there not enough horror already in the world, without making people who are too poor to pay go without water? Already in places where water has been privatised people, including children and old people are dying because they cannot obtain water. The only ones who want this are the ones who will profit. This is pure fascism
Judith Gaglani, Canada

Privatisation simply means that a private individual wants to make some money by pretending to provide a better service. Lesotho is a case in point. Why don't these so called private investors invest in helping the Governments of the countries they are in. Water is such a basic necessity that it is a moral sin to profiteer from people who are, above all, disadvantaged. In Stockholm are they going to find solutions or simply examine the issues because the issues are simple.
Eric Odotei, African living in the UK

Water is Life and access to water is a human right. Wherever management of public water supplies are privatised, government has a duty to ensure that the poor have access to water at affordable prices.
W.Schonecke, Germany

Privatization is desperately needed in Ghana.
Emmanuel Oman, US/Ghana
I have lived in rural parts of Ghana where water is already privatised. The poor people pay so much for good drinking water while the activists against privatisation live in the big cities and want free water. The balance between privatisation and government control is the only way and big water companies must accept governments inclusion in water delivery. Privatization is desperately needed in Ghana.
Emmanuel Oman, US/Ghana

There is no lack of water. There is a lack of an artificial and false constraint - money. The technical resources to utilize what is naturally plentiful everywhere in the world, depend simply and purely upon money. It is time the world community realized there is no water shortage on earth, but there is a money shortage and that is purely within human control to remedy.
Robert Morpheal, Canada

Companies may jump at the chance to supply the cities with water because they already have existing infrastructure. What company however is going to find it economically viable to supply the people living in remote villages? Privatisation works in the West because there are many companies and decent existing infrastructure. In too many African countries it will simply become another political tool of oppression.
David Priddy, UK

I think the provision of clean water should be left to the central government as private companies are more profit-oriented and would not take adequate care to provide clean, safe to drink water.
Frank Mothepu, Lesotho

At the moment the water system in Ghana is bankrupt, cannot supply services to new people and cannot maintain its current infrastructure. It is in a crisis and needs help to get it operating again which is why the government has asked for international technical assistance and or investment.
Paul Mitchell, Canada

Privatising water is like privatising air. People need it to live. Period.
Neil, US/Europe
Privatising water is like privatising air. People need it to live. Period. What is going to happen to those that cannot afford it? I think the answer is fairly clear.
Neil, US/Europe

Water is a fundamental human right, not a commodity. This is the core issue at stake. As a basic human right it must remain in the public domain, where government has a solemn obligation to ensure citizens' access to clean fresh water.
Larry J. Goodwin, USA

Privatisation of water supply is a rare opportunity for very poor countries which have ample water resources but unable to provide this basic necessity to its people because of financial constraints. Unfortunately water supply for domestic use would not be an attracting business. On average, one can not drink more than three litres of water per day. Consumption of more than three litres a day cannot be increased by advertising! And in Africa we rarely have more than one cloth to wash. However, privatisation of a river basin as a whole may provide an opportunity to develop water not only for domestic water supply but also for irrigation, hydropower, fishing industry and sound basin scale management.
Seifu Kebede, Ethiopia/France

The government must provide water to the people free. If they try to make profit out of it, I do not think we can afford to pay. You have to look at the individual income.
Elias Fassil, Ethiopia

NO! Privatization of water? Every human being on earth needs access to clean drinking water. It is a fundamental human right without a doubt. Please do not tell me that the World Bank believes that this will help the poor who have limited access to water at all, let alone clean water for drinking. This will only make it more difficult for the poor. It will also make some wealthy people more wealthy. Limiting access to water through privatisation is ludicrous. Who will be given the water rights? If a person needs water, but does not have money or other means of paying for it, does that mean they go without?
Genevieve, US

Privatisation will lead to less waste as the value of this special resource will be realised.
Kyle, South Africa
Privatisation will lead to less waste as the value of this special resource will be realised. Giving governments monopolies over resources has also proven to encourage corruption and sever wastage. I say YAY to Privatisation!
Kyle, South Africa

What does "privatisation" mean in this case? If it means that a private corporation would be able to sell water as a commodity, then I would say that is one of the most unethical ideas I have heard in a long time. However, if it means that governments will pay private companies to improve water distribution, then it is worth discussion. After all, if these governments were up to the job, there would not be so many people without water.
Jim, NJ, US

I enjoy hearing that I have a new fundamental right, this time to water. Next year it will be to electricity, and the following will be fuel for my automobile. These pseudo-political concepts are simply creating an atmosphere of laziness and entitlement. We have one right, and that is the right to be, along with that comes the responsibility to self and others. Nationalising water will only further imprison Africans, because common leaders commonly produce disasters.
Rob, US

I think many people view the concept of public/private water supplies as being an option for only one extreme or the other. There are many models whereby the public and private sectors operate jointly to realise the best aspects of each. The definition of privatisation that people seem to most concerned about here is one of a complete sell-off with no regulation. In the UK (and much of Europe) there are private water companies operating but under very strict regulation. The UK government via a regulator OfWat has the power to tell private companies how much they can or cannot charge. I am a civil engineer in the water industry in the UK and I am of a very pragmatic view that if it works, then it works, if it does not then change it.
Hamish Brydone, UK

Actually I think that water should be a Pan Africa project. It is necessary for human life throughout Africa and the world. Privatisation of public utilities has always brought great wealth to corporations and disaster to the people. Look at privatisation of electric power in the US and water in South America. The price goes up two to eight times.
Whatfools, US

Water for profit is water for all. State owned water is what Africa has now.
Andrew Walden, US
Water for profit is water for all. State owned water is what Africa has now. Any questions?
Andrew Walden, US

For too long all parts of the world have freely given water and used water systems in a totally unreal way. It is time for all countries developing and 'advanced' to have the customer pay the true price for the water they use. Of all our natural resources no other is wasted so grossly by poor management and the belief held by many that it should be free. Opening all water supply and control to private sector will provide a realistic, and truly market based use of our limited water supply.
Tom Scott, Scotland

Water is a necessary human quantum. No water supply should be in the hands of any private institution. It belongs to the people, not to corporations. And governments should take note of this.
Des Currie, Umdloti, South Africa

A government has no business privatising water. It should be managed by each community. There is at least some spring, stream or river in every locality. Water management is not such a complicated and expensive venture. In the first place, the government's involvement in water management is oppression and in the second place, stealing the people's water to sell to private (usually foreign entrepreneurs) is extortion.
Franklin Sone-Bayern, Yaounde/Cameroon

Private sector participation on a grand scale, as we have experienced in many countries in Latin-America, Europe and Asia, is not the ultimate solution for the water problems we face all over the world, even in rainy countries like Germany where we have drought this summer. What is important is to decentralize not just the responsibility but also the financial means and leave the management and regulation of the water supply and sanitation systems to the communities. Donor organizations will then have to support independent regulatory agencies and give advice to governments concerning reasonable water sector reforms and their technical solutions.
Eva Youkhana, Germany

I don't think it is realistic to privatise God's creation.
Janet, Ghana

Water is a basic necessity of life which must not be commodified according to one's ability to pay.
Kojo Gyabaah, Ghana
Water is a basic necessity of life which must not be commodified according to one's ability to pay. There needs to be some kind of level playing field where the underprivileged will enjoy the fundamental things in life without paying the full cost for them. I believe well-intentioned Ghanaians should join the crusade and say no to the Privatisation of Ghana Water, especially to Western-owned interests.
Kojo Gyabaah, Accra/Ghana

I have no objection to the privatisation of the Ghana Water Company only if the government can assure us that they would be represented on the board and act for the interest of the Ghanaian populace.
Frederick Yaw Fosu Appiah, Ghana

In my part of Africa, water is freely available. The source of water is managed centrally by the authorities. The village stream is cleaned and maintained by groups appointed by the leaders to allow everyone to have unimpeded access. But in general, I would say that if the government is of the type we have in most parts of the continent today then the provision of water should be privatised.
Kingsley Ezenekwe, Aba/Nigeria

Privatisation in the long term is one sure way of expanding services and ensuring delivery.
Kwame Ofori-Kuragu, UK
Privatisation in the long term is one sure way of expanding services and ensuring delivery. Whilst the state has the overall well-being of the people at heart, it does not - in Ghana and Africa at large - have the capacity to effectively discharge this role. Privatisation is the way forward but we need to put in place a mechanism to ensure that either the poor are assisted to pay for the service or we look for other ways to pay for the water used by the poor.
Kwame Ofori-Kuragu, UK




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