United Nations Conference on Water

Japan recently hosted the third World Water Forum that featured about 10,000 delegates from 150 countries.

The United Nations has set a goal of reducing by half the number of people without access to safe water and sanitation by 2015. But that seems very unlikely, especially as the forum itself was bogged down by competing interest groups and debate about the best approaches to bring about this admirable goal.

China received praise for its efforts to collect rainwater which has yielded enough drinking water for 15 million people. Such programs, however, rely on good governance which cannot necessarily be guaranteed over time. India also experienced a lot of initial success with a rainwater collection system which then fell victim to lack of maintenance and oversight.

But the oddest thing was the private vs. public water debate. A coalition of NGOs called the Blue Planet Project was unhappy that the last World Water Forum had given its approval for privatization of water facilities. The Blue Planet Project insists that access to water is a “right” that should be guaranteed by the state.

Right, since good governance of public resources is such a hallmark of developing countries that they are the obvious choice to manage water facilities. Privatizing water in such countries has the specific advantage of removing water management from the political realm where corruption has led to the mismanagement of water and other resources in the developing world.


Forum tackles world water crisis. Tim Hirsch, The BBC, March 16, 2003.

World meets to tackle water crisis. Ben Sutherland, The BBC, March 15, 2003.

‘Ideological battle’ over world’s water. Tim Hirsch, The BBC, March 18, 2003.

Leave a Reply