Privatisation of Water: A Historical Perspective

Naren Prasad
Research Coordinator,
United Nations Research Institute for
Social Development (UNRISD),
Palais des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 10,


Currently, over one billion people worldwide do not have access to drinking water, especially in the developing countries. Since access to water supply became one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), greater attention has been given to this sector. Increasing water coverage and maintaining infrastructure is one of the biggest challenges confronting the water supply sector in developed and developing countries. Very often, water sector reform takes place by involving the private sector. How did this debate start and what is the rationale for the involvement of the private sector? This article looks at the history to demonstrate that private sector has indeed been instrumental in developing water infrastructure in industrialised countries. It also shows how international organisations have shaped today's water debate. It concludes by arguing that private sector participation in water supply may not be the right option and calls for re-thinking of the water debate.


International organisations, MDG, privatisation, United Nations, water history, World Bank.             LEAD Journal - ISSN 1746-5893