Water delivery: public or private?
de Visser, Jaap
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The landscape within which human rights are protected and realised has changed dramatically in the last few decades. One of the main driving forces for this change is economic globalisation and the weakening of the traditional state. In many parts of the world, the private sector is becoming increasingly involved in performing functions that have traditionally been reserved for the state. Even the provision of basic services, such as water, is not exempt from this development. Private sector involvement varies from the outright sale of public assets to the outsourcing of essential service delivery functions. Moreover, the public sector is pressurised to ‘downscale’ and make efficiency gains by placing certain trading functions at arms length in semi-private entities. The result of all of this is the increasing commodification of the provision of basis services, such as water. However, such basic services are guaranteed within a human rights framework as part of international law. In principle, it is only states that are the bearers of human rights obligations in international law. The extent to which private entities can bear human rights obligations remains controversial and human rights law is not concerned with whether the ultimate provider of socio-economic goods and services is either the state or the individual. This book contains a compilation of papers dealing with access to water. In South Africa, many cities and municipalities have delegated bulk water purification and management to private water services providers. Some view this as abdication from state responsibility and a violation of the constitutionally protected right of access to sufficient water. Others, including the state, argue that private sector involvement is indispensable for realising access to water.