Water privatisation has spread rapidly throughout the world over the last decade, particularly in the South. But the tide now seems to be turning. Increased tariffs and a failure to deliver promised improvements, have left water multinationals facing increasing opposition.
A major trend has emerged as more and more communities insist on returning water and wastewater services to public management through remunicipalisation, forcing water multinationals to pull out of services in Latin America, the United States, Africa and Europe.
Even France, once known as the heartland of water privatisation, is embracing a return to public management (read more about the water remunicipalisation wave).
The Water Justice project has compiled examples of how communities in different parts of the world are moving from failed privatised water management to successful publicly managed water and wastewater services. These examples are presented on this Water Remunicipalisation Tracker (read more about the tracker). Approaches differ depending on local circumstances but undoubtedly lessons can be learned from the different but inspiring experiences of remunicipalisation.
This tracker is intended as a work-in-progress to which everyone can contribute. Existing cases will be updated and new examples added, with the support of water campaigners, public water utility managers, trade unionists and others committed to successful remunicipalisation. The tracker is also an excellent opportunity to inspire others with the achievements and lessons from successful experiences, as well as to improve the visibility of activities and outcomes from campaigns currently advocating a return to public management of their water services.
If you are involved in a local water remunicipalisation process and you would like it to be included in the tracker, or you have other insights you would like to share, don’t hesitate to CONTACT US.
About the Water Remunicipalisation Tracker
The remunicipalisation tracker mirrors the format typically used by private water-industry publications for listing upcoming privatisation and public-private partnership (PPP) contracts that provide possibilities for commercial expansion.
Our purpose, however, is very different: to showcase cities, regions and countries that have rolled back privatisation and embarked on securing public water for all that need it. Through this tracker, the Water Justice Project aims to increase the visibility of the remunicipalisation trend by bringing together diverse, lesser known yet always inspiring experiences. Rather than providing a comprehensive overview of the often complex processes that involve a wide range of actors, the tracker focuses on understanding why and how the remunicipalisation process took place as well as the the obstacles that were encountered and the results that were achieved. In many cases, more detailed information is available through links.
To provide a more realistic overview of the water remunicipalisation trend, the tracker includes not only processes in which privatisation was rolled back and substituted by public sector provision, but also relevant campaigns that are currently advocating the remunicipalisation of water services.
The tracker was also conceived as a participatory initiative, in which existing cases can be updated and new experiences added to bring further awareness to the water remunicipalisation wave. It is our hope that this tracker will provide inspiration to politicians, unions, consumers, ecologist associations, activists, public water officials and many others in the struggle for fair, democratic and sustainable models of providing water for all. We encourage you to get involved!
The water remunicipalisation wave
In most countries, the expansion of modern water and sanitation systems happened as a result of public ownership and investment in response to increasing demand and public health concerns in urban areas. In the 1990s, however, many countries privatised their water and sanitation services, particularly in the South, as a result of strong pressure from neoliberal mindset governments and international financial institutions, to ‘open’ up national services.
The promises that privatisation would improve the provision of drinking and wastewater services soon faltered. Many of the privatised operations quickly began to show weaknesses as they missed targets for expanding and upgrading networks, introduced excessive tariff increases alongside connection fees which were unaffordable for low-income families. Management activities were not transparent and accountable. As a result numerous contracts with private operators were terminated often following popular unrest. Many cities, regions and even countries have chosen to close the book on water privatisation and instead embarked on remunicipalisation or renationalisation of water delivery, in which the aim is not to return to the pre-privatisation realities but to develop public-water systems that satisfy citizens’ needs.
Remunicipalisation is happening not only at municipal and community levels (such as in France or the US) but also at regional levels (as in Buenos Aires and the Santa Fe provinces in Argentina) and national levels (such as Uruguay and Mali). Around 40 municipalities and urban communities in France have already taken water services back into public hands over the last ten years, resulting in cheaper tariffs and improved services. Also cities in the US, large and small, have remunicipalised their water services as a reaction to poor service and excessive rates. In both countries, some of the private operators used sophisticated and dishonest management and financial practices to increase profits.
Meanwhile, diverse innovative public water management reforms have taken shape following remunicipalisation, particularly in Southern countries. Two good examples of this trend are the democratisation reforms of the Uruguayan national water operator and the worker-run company operating the provincial utility of the Buenos Aires Province.
It’s apparent that a global remunicipalisation wave is emerging. Powerful citizen-initiated campaigns in major French cities, such us Paris and Toulouse, are currently advocating the remunicipalisation of water services. In the US, remunicipalisation is being promoted in a number of municipalities. Remunicipalisation campaigns are also taking place in other regions, such as Córdoba (Argentina) and México City (México). Moreover, in some areas national coalitions are campaigning strongly for the renationalisation of the sector as seen in Italy and Northern Ireland. In Italy, a coalition of labour, religious and environmental organisations has submitted over 400,000 signatures in a petition to the Italian Parliament requesting a legislative initiative to declare the entire water system public property managed through agencies disciplined by public law as a way to improve the accessibility and affordability of water for the public.
How is the tracker organized?
Each experience is described in accordance with the fields listed below. A color key at the left-side list of cases permits readers to distinguish between succesfull experiences achieving public sector provision, and ongoing campaigns.
Please note that some of the fields might not be available in particular cases
This field includes the type and duration of the rescinded privatisation contract, and the company holding it; the privatisation-related problems including main breaches of contractual obligations; and the process through services went back into public hands.
- Key actors
The field enumerates the main actors, both supporting and hindering the remunicipalisation of services, and the role they played in the process. It can include unions, consumers, environmental and other social organisations and coalitions, relevant individuals, governments, private operators and their main shareholders, and international donors and other external actors.
- Current water management model
This field summarizes the main characteristics of the model resulting from the remunicipalisation process. When available, the text includes the nature and ownership of the new utility, its main objectives, mechanisms for social participation, etc.
The field resumes how the new model is expected to cover operation and maintenance costs, but also (if necessary) capital investments for network expansion and upgrading works (this is especially relevant in Southern cities).
Most of cases in the tracker are very recent. This epigraph mentions the expected reforms and new programs, as well as their state of implementation.
Adding to the resource provided by the numerous hyperlinks in the other sections, this field lists publications, articles, reports and other materials that allow the reader to access more detailed information. Most of suggested materials are both English language and available on-line.