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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 August, 2003, 00:40 GMT 01:40 UK
World Bank pushes private water
Child pushed wheelbarrow of water in Johannesburg
Water privatisation in South Africa has met with mixed results
The World Bank has reiterated its controversial case that the introduction of the private sector in some areas of Africa would help ease the continent's water crisis.

Some 300 million people - around half of Africa's population - have no access to clean water and sanitation.

Debate over how to best supply them has often been polarised over the principle of whether water is an essential commodity for life - and therefore should be free to all - or whether to charge for its supply, either for profit or to ensure a quality supply.

"Water is critical to life - we have to get water to poor people," Paul Mitchell, communications director of the World Bank, told BBC World Service's Africa Live! programme.

"There are a lot of myths about privatisation."

Mr Mitchell took the example of Ghana - where recently a group named the National Coalition Against Water Privatisation has been attacking the World Bank's plans - to outline his case.

"The [Ghanaian] government decided in 1995 to bring private participation in, but they're not selling anything off," he said.

"Private sector participation is simply to manage the asset to make it function for the people in the country."

'Best way'

Mr Mitchell added that Ghana's government was unable to invest in a better water supply in the country because of a lack of money.

"It's expenditures are running at twice the rate of its income - it's a system in crisis," he said.

"It's having trouble serving the people it does now - never mind the growth in people out there, never mind the poor people."

He added that Ghana's poor mostly had to buy water from tankers, which costs between 10 and 20 times more than the price that would be charged if it was simply taken from the water system.

Privatisation means exploitation of the poor by the rich
Srinivasan Pattoo, India

Mr Mitchell said: "The critical issue, and what we're interested in, is what is the best way to get water to poor people.

"It ranges all the way from continuing to have the government run the system to privatisation, and various means in between that."

His comments came during the World Water Week in Stockholm, which has been debating the role of the private sector in water supply.

While some have broadly supported the World Bank's position, others remain committed to the principle of water being for public use.

"The ownership of water should be in the public domain," Ravi Narayanan, director of NGO Water Aid, told Africa Live!

"Water is not a commodity that can be given away to private hands.

"Having said that, the service provision is a separate thing, and the decision whether it should be a private sector provision or a public sector itself is firmly in the government's hands."

Mixed success

The story of privatisation in Africa so far is mixed, Mr Narayanan added.

Niger
Niger is ranked by the UN as the world's second most porous country
He said that in cities like Durban, which have some private provision strictly controlled by regulatory bodies, it had been a success.

But he agreed that there had been problems in Niger, where French company Vivendi took charge of the water supply in 2000.

Reporting from Niger for Africa Live!, the BBC's Idy Baraou said that Vivendi had recently increased the price of water in the country, and that had "caused much dismay and shock."

"In the case of Durban there's a very strong public authority that oversees the conditions and the rules of the game," Mr Narayanan said.

"Where private sector participation has tended to work, it's important to note that there has been a strong regulatory authority.

"But where there isn't such a strong regulatory authority, there are problems."




SEE ALSO:
Ghana's water battle heats up
12 Aug 03  |  Africa
Water for all, or for profit?
08 Aug 03  |  Africa


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