Global Ethics Corner: Has Water Become a Right?

Feb 13, 2009

Less than one percent of the earth's water is consumable, and many parts of the world may be heading toward water bankruptcy. Should private ownership of water rights and delivery systems be encouraged, rejected, or better managed?

Less than one percent of the earth's water is consumable. That small amount is under threat as population growth, industrialization, climate change, and poor water management strain resources.

Today, more than 1 billion people lack clean water, and that will double by 2050. In Kenya, clashes over water intensify because of drought. In Pakistan, wheat production may go down by 40 percent due to water scarcity.

Is water bankruptcy coming in Asia, the Middle East, and the American southwest? Are unsustainable regional water bubbles being fed by under-pricing and inefficiency?

Investment returns are low in the water industry. Privatization has given millions in developing countries safe drinking water. But the risks are great and companies often hike rates to recover costs... kicking people off the system.

Some argue that private investment makes the water industry more efficient bringing in money, technology, and expertise. Others say that water is a universal human right and should be controlled by the public.

What do you think? Should private ownership of water rights and delivery systems be encouraged or rejected, or is it a management problem?

Adapted from an article by Christina Madden on Policy Innovations

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