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March 22 is World Water Day and the clock is ticking for donors to take action on the humanitarian and ecological water crisis that leaves one billion people without access to clean water.

Over the last decade the European Commission has persistently promoted increased private sector participation in water and sanitation services. However, experiences from Bolivia, Guyana, Tanzania and elsewhere demonstrate that privately-operated water services do not bring the necessary investment or efficiency gains to deliver affordable water to the urban poor.

Despite these failures, the Commission continues to promote policies and funding mechanisms to encourage private sector involvement in water and sanitation services, whilst also pressing poor countries to open these sectors to European multinationals.

We now call for changes in this approach, changes that recognise access to water as a human right and which give poor countries the support needed to make this right a reality.

Worldwide, 90 per cent of piped water provision is publicly provided, with strong public utilities in Brazil, India, Uganda and elsewhere delivering water and sanitation services to increasing numbers. The challenge is to scale-up this good performance by improving other public providers.

We welcome recent comments that the Commission will look to introduce ‘smart aid’ policies. In relation to water and sanitation, this should mean that the EU:

  • Stops using aid money to facilitate private sector involvement.
  • Drops requests for market access within trade talks.
  • Greatly increases aid and public investment in the sector.
  • Supports the development of strong public utilities in the Global South through ‘public-public partnerships’ that enable the exchange of expertise between public providers, working hand-in-hand with local communities

List of signatories