"How can you say that water should have a price? You can't sell human rights!"
Such was the greeting that UN special rapporteur Catarine du Albuquerque met when she first tried to get civil society to think about how to provide water and sanitation to the people who don't have it. 2.4 billion people (out of 7 billion in the world today) live without a toilet. Just in Latin America, 30 million people lack access to clean water. And you know, it's not going to be free to get sewer systems to all those people! If that can be accomplished with public-private partnerships, then great.
A recent paper showed the importance of publicly provided water by looking at the issue historically: in England, when municipal governments took over water supplies, people living nearby benefited: mortality rates linked to water dropped by 20%. So, does that mean we should keep the private sector out? Not necessarily: first, not everywhere is as good at governance as England, and second, sometimes we need the private sector to come in and take the first steps. In Argentina, privatizing the water supply cut child mortality rates in poor areas by 24%.
As Dr. Zilberman mentioned in his blog entry a few weeks ago (see this blog's entry on Pollan et al.), sometimes different solutions work better in different environments. We shouldn't be too quick to rule any of them out!