A pressing issue in the developing world is access to clean and safe drinking water. The Copenhagen Consensus points to several water issues as among the "good projects" it identifies.

I came across this interesting article on efforts by private entrepreneurs to deliver safe drinking water in the developing world and the failures of the private sector to do so. As with many other scarce commodities, it is being argued that the problem here is a lack of well-defined property rights. An interesting, and important, challenge.

stealthlawprof (mail) (www):
Just as an aside -- it is ironic that the Copenhagen Consensus would identify clean and safe drinking water as a priority. Copenhagen has -- by far -- the worst drinking water of any place I have ever visited.

That said, the challenge of delivering safe water is significant and the property aspect of the challenge is, as you note, interesting and important. I just hope those who develop the systems do not model anything after Copenhagen's water.
3.21.2006 10:54pm
Patrick (mail):
This may also be of interest to you: Water for Life.

It makes some very similar points, via

Property rights cannot be underestimated, I think. If you search The Economist they have written on this several times, as well.
3.22.2006 12:57am
smc78 (mail):
Ethos water, which is owned by Starbucks, donates part of the sale (5 cents) from each bottle of water to providing clean drinking water in the developing world. The company was privately owned and went to Starbucks to get them to carry the product. Starbucks liked the concept so much that they bought the company. The committed goal is to donate $10 million in 5 years.
3.22.2006 6:09am
Freder Frederson (mail):
You took a tangential reference to property rights in the article (poor people being driven off the land into the cities because of unclear title to their lands) to make a point about property rights regarding water? I don't see the connection. Are you advocating property rights for drinking water?
3.22.2006 9:25am
Andy Freeman (mail):
There's a typo in the Twiki's post; it should say "the failures of the public sector to do so." The cited article says "listing a series of examples from all over the world where, it says, market forces are delivering the clean water that governments have failed to provide."

Note that these market forces and biz folk are already being damned. Search for "privatizing water".
3.22.2006 12:04pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
We all need clean pure water in order to replenish our precious bodily fluids. I drink only distilled rainwater, untouched by flouridation or other impurities.
3.22.2006 2:59pm
Stealthlawprof: Is Copenhagen's drinking water unhealthy, or merely bad tasting?

If it is merely bad tasting, I can't imagine it could be worse than the municipal water supply of San Diego.
3.22.2006 4:09pm
Back to the main point, private vs. public water supplies is another of those demagogic issues that the global left likes to bring up. If private water companies were nosing out competent public water suppliers to provide an exorbitantly priced product, they might have a point. But that's obviously not the case in the Third World.
3.22.2006 4:11pm
Anon1ms (mail):
In many cases, the issue is not as simple as public vs. private ownership.

The decision may be misguided, but some third-world governments do not extend public utilities to the shanty towns on the urban fringes for fear that it will encourage more migration to already critically overcrowded cities.

Obviously the capital costs of providng potable water to millions of people, who are living in substandard housing to begin with, is a daunting task even for a willing third-world government, and would probably be so for a private venture, too, on a large scale.
3.22.2006 4:35pm
financing the supply of (a) universally-available, (b) affordable, (c) reliable and (d) clean water is hard enough here in the US. It presents staggering problems in developing countries.

Simply put, the capital costs of a water supply that meets the foregoing four criteria is simply beyond the reach of most communities. Even if public agencies weren't corrupt (and many of them are) and even if private water companies were willing to DBO (design, build and operate) water systems at cost (which they're not), billions of people cannot afford first world water standards.

so cheap labor (ie, lugging the water) is substituted for expensive capital. now the question becomes what role western governments and ngos can play in developing systems that can function in these capital-poor and labor-rich environments, keeping in mind that the point is (a) to deliver cleaner water as to reduce infant mortality and (b) to free up primarily young women from the drudgery of hauling water every day so they can go to school.

privatizing either the water rights or the water infrastructure (very different things) can play a role in meeting these goals, but so far has done so with relatively little success.
3.22.2006 4:46pm
lisamarie (mail):
True privatization of water could probably accomplish a lot. Looking at things as they are, it's important to distinguish between private enterpreneurs finding ways to meet people's water needs, and "privatization" that essentially consists of a government (which has already failed to adequately manage water provision) contracting out management of the water utility to a corporation, while telling that corporation that it has to do all the inefficient, money-losing things that the government was already doing. Hiring a company to do what the government tells it to do (in an area where the government is already doing poorly) is not privatization.
3.22.2006 5:14pm