Get Water to the People

Saturday, October 1, 2005

Jan Eliasson and Susan Blumenthal [op-ed, Sept. 20] were right about the gravity of the situation concerning access to clean and safe water in developing countries and the effects on the health and well-being of more than a billion people. However, their solution to the problem was unrealistic.

They referred to the Millennium Development Goals, mentioned that the United Nations has declared the next 10 years to be the International Decade for Action on "Water for Life" and called for more government action. The problem is that we have heard this before. The 1980s were the "International Drinking Water and Sanitation Decade." As far back as in 1977, representatives from most of the world's governments promised water for everyone. Yet more than a billion people still are deprived of water.

We need to introduce true pricing and tradable water rights. Privatization of distribution would allow businesses, with their better access to capital and stronger incentives for expansion, to reach millions of unserved households. For the world's poorest -- who pay an average of 12 times more for water in the informal sector than those connected to formal networks -- privatization could mean a dramatic fall in prices.



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