The World Bank Wants to Privatize the One Thing We Can't Live Without

Putting corporations in charge of something as vital as water may sound cartoonish. But it's no hook for a dystopia story: The World Bank, which offers "loans, advice, and other resources" to developing countries, is recommending that water management be a privatized industry.

Some might argue that the private sector can eliminate inefficiencies and support smart government spending. However privatizing water — or, more precisely, the infrastructure that cleans and delivers it — is bad for the consumer. When your Internet doesn't work, that's a pain and an inconvenience, but it doesn't mean that your health or your life are in danger. Dehydration, waterborne illnesses, clean waste disposal and the ability to grow crops further prove that access to water can mean the difference between a society that thrives sand one that totally fails.

According to the World Bank's data, 34% of private water and sewage contracts in World Bank projects completed between 2000 and 2010 are in distress. During that same period, other privatized industries had a much lower rate of failure: 6% for energy, 3% for telecommunications and 7% for transportation. Even the successes aren't always something to brag about with prices skyrocketing and consumer oversight nonexistent.

"Corporations don't have a social or development mission," said Shayda Naficy, the director of the International Water Campaign at Corporate Accountability International. "Right now we're funding development to prop up private projects, instead of putting the decisions for funding in the hands of governments that are accountable to people."

Advocates want governments to shift allocations to invest in their own infrastructure, and people all over the world — Bolivia, Somaliland, Zimbabwe, the Philippines, India, Ecuador — have taken to the streets to assert their say over how they get their water.

World Bank is "self-dealing," said Naficy, by "setting up a project that it's in a position to profit from." This kind of deal is bad news for everyone except those on top, and the people standing up to the World Bank are calling shenanigans.

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Esther Bergdahl

Esther is the copy chief at Mic. She has degrees from the University of Chicago and the Medill School of Journalism, which means she has a lot of feelings about both Shakespeare and Studs Terkel.

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