Home / Programs / Environment / Water / Water Privatization

Water Privatization

When a water system is privatized, the prices inevitably go up, sometimes as much as 100 percent.  One of the arguments for privatization is that private companies will do a better job of maintaining the water system that the national government could.  This is untrue – a company that is centered on profits will not do as much to maintain the water infrastructure because that requires pouring money into the system.  Jobs are inevitably lost and the quality of the water tends to go down.  When water systems are governed for profit, the natural resource is abused.

Actions Against Water Privatization

Perhaps the most well know instance of fighting against water privatization is the water wars between the people of Cochabamba, Bolivia and private water corporations. The World Bank refused to renew development loans made to Bolivia unless they privatized their water system.  Bolivia complied, allowing a consortium of companies, including Bechtel Enterprise Holdings, International Water Limited (owned by Bechtel) and others, to take over the previously state run water systems.  The consortium raised the water rates 35% immediately after their takeover of the system to fund improvement projects.  However, the consortium never made moves to complete these projects, and the rate hike was widely protested.  Eventually, the protestors managed to convince the Bolivian government to return the water systems to the public, after four months of political unrest and military engagement against citizens on behalf of the Bechtel executives.

What About Bottled Water?

Bottled water is one of the most well known arms of the privatization machine, but also one of the least recognized as such.  When you buy a bottle of water somewhere, two things are happening:

1)      That bottle of water has a huge impact on the health of the environment.  It takes 17.6 barrels of oil to produce the amount of bottled water consumed in the US alone. Most bottles of water end up in landfills, many of them shipped around the world to developing countries.

2)      Huge corporations are making a profit off taking the same groundwater that comes from the tap (draining the ground supply in the process) and selling it back to you and 100x the cost of tap water.

Because of this, corporations make millions of dollars off of a resource that used to be free and available to everyone. CEO of Suez Gerard Mestrallet says of water, ‘[It] is an efficient product.  It is a product that would normally be free, and our job is to sell it.  But it is a product which is absolutely necessary for life.’

Bottled water plays into that way of thinking.  It is a resource that is generally free, yet corporations like Nestle, Coca-Cola, and Pepsi Co bottle it and sell it back to the public, often at outrageous prices that are too expensive for many rural poor to afford.

The World Wildlife Fund estimates that the bottled water industry racks up $4 billion in sales each year.  Bringing water and sanitation to everyone in the world would cost $10 billion, meaning that if the sales from the bottled water industry alone were redirected to providing clean water systems (not to mention the resources saved without the production of bottled water), that could put a significant dent in the number of people without access to clean water and sanitation.

What you can do 

  • Stopping water privatization in the US means simply standing up against private companies when cities, towns, and states attempt to privatize the water. 
  • Internationally, you can stand in solidarity with people fighting against privatization.  Check out Water Justice for updates on the fight against privatization at www.waterjustice.org.
  • Show a movie discussing the issue. Check out our film library for a list of free films you can borrow from AIDemocracy. Films come with discussion guides and free shipping. It couldn’t be any easier!
  • Organize an event on your campus. Bring in a speaker. Organize a debate. Stand up and demand change. Check out our event database for some great ideas to get you started.
  • Request a mini-grant to make your film or event a success. We provide small grants to help pay for materials, food and speakers. [insert_email email=”opportunities@aidemocracy.org” subject=”information request…” display=”Contact us”] to discuss.
  • Speak out to the network. Write a blog for our site. Post something on our Facebook group. Share photos or video with us on YouTube. Share your opinions with other concerned students like you. Here’s how to submit materials.
  • Ask for advice and support. Not sure how to get started? Need to talk through ideas for your event? AIDemocracy staff and student leaders are here to help.
  • And more…