Privatizing Water: Governance Failure and the World's Urban Water Crisis

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Privatizing Water: Governance Failure and the World's Urban Water Crisis
By Karen Bakker
Cornell University Press, 2010
296 pp. $24.95
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Bakker, a Canadian political scientist, tries to dissect the often emotional debate over whether urban water supplies should be publicly or privately owned. (Surprisingly, she does not analyze the related service of sewage disposal.) Twenty years ago, privatizing the supply of water was high on the agendas of some economists and development agencies. Reviewing experiences since then, Bakker concludes that either mode of ownership is quite capable of providing inadequate service, particularly to the urban poor, her principal interest. Publicly owned suppliers are too often viewed as sources of patronage jobs or contracts; private providers too often channel the efficiency gains they achieve to shareholders rather than to customers, which is perhaps unsurprising given the lack of competition in the sector. Bakker cautiously concludes that the best arrangement is a combination of the two approaches: public ownership with private management under contract.