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Water, Health, and the Commodification Debate

By Patrick Bond

Abstract

Conflicts in the water sector are now well-known, and also increasingly researched by economists, particularly in relation to major ideological differences over state-run versus privatized municipal systems. A major dividing line is over how to access and sustain the financing required to expand and maintain municipal grids. In the context especially of third world urban processes, a crucial determinant is whether market-based pricing of water can generate health benefits to justify new capital investments. Such benefits have typically required strong public systems that offer adequate water supply (with sufficient proximity to source) at an affordable price. A variety of financial and fiscal pressures emerged since the 1980s, leaving full cost recovery as the core practice required by international aid agencies, multilateral financiers, and multinational corporations. Those firms were attracted by high potential profits which, ultimately, could not be realized (in part because of currency deterioration and profit repatriation problems), and hence systems were not maintained or expanded, and health benefits not realized. As commodification of water spread during the era of globalization, so too did an international civil society network demanding---and often winning--- decommodification of water and deglobalization of water-capital, returning service delivery to local public institutions, often on grounds of improved public health.commodification; conditionalities; water; health

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