“Water is the most important raw material in the world, and we need to decide whether or not the population’s water supply should be privatized. And there are two schools of thought on this. One, an extreme viewpoint in my opinion, (is that) as a human being, you have the right to water. That’s the extreme solution.
“The other viewpoint is that water is a foodstuff like any other foodstuff, and as such, it should have a market value.
“Personally, I feel that a market price should be set for all foodstuffs so that we are all aware of its actual cost. And for those who don’t have access to water, there should be specific solutions, and there are a variety of possibilities for that issue.”
Nestlé CEO Peter Brabeck, from a 2012 interview.
I guess whether or not you agree with this statement depends on your faith in the ability of a market-based approach to tackle most issues.
Fresh water access has always been a point of contention, and water conflicts have been around for as long as humans have sought clean water. But fresh water has generally been, until fairly recently, considered a commons. The provision of safe water via public services has been considered part the state’s responsibility.
Like many public services in countless countries, water services have been undergoing a process of privatization. On the Water Privatization Conflicts website, there are a number of highly informative articles on this process, and what it means for the democracy of water access.
Clean, safe, reliable water supplies are becoming increasingly difficult to come by, with or without privatization. What kind of government health and safety oversight would privatization entail, and who would be ultimately responsible for where the water flows?
The question is, do companies – even the very best companies – really have the means, the authority, the reliability and the trustworthiness to take charge of the water supply to any given population? Water security is an issue that not only affects the general populace, but the ability of businesses and companies to function. Thus, there are many who are encouraging companies to take action to managing water risks.
The main priority of businesses, especially companies of the size necessary to take on something as long-term as ‘water ownership’, is finding new markets, and exploiting those markets for profits. And in most cases, that’s just as it should be. The market can be a powerful tool. However, risk management doesn’t necessarily mean ownership.
It puts me in mind of the saying, “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
When it comes to one of the most important basic elements for life, the extremely limited natural resource of water, I’m not sure the market-based approach is the right tool.
Motley Fool article on water scarcity as an investment potential – Riding on the world’s water crisis by Sudhan P
Worth a look – Flow: For Love of Water (2008), a documentary on water privatization.