Water: public resource and private asset

Eccles, Timothy (1994) Water: public resource and private asset. In: Protection and management of water resources through land use planning; 16 - 17 Jun 1994, Strasbourg, France.


Today water is big business. In the United Kingdom, water has recently been privatised. The State has sold its apparatus for water provision to private shareholders who seek to provide the service at a profit to themselves. This is a clear example of commodification; of valuing water in terms of a good available in the market at the market price. Water must thus be seen, and treated, as a good for sale with a range of other items competing for limited purchasing power. In mainland Europe, the State maintains a regulatory control over the supply of water, but the staunch commercialism personified by the British position is still present. This paper seeks to explain the process through which this attitude arose. To do so, it takes from philosophy the theoretical constructs used to explain how societies arise. It does, however, apply these to a practical discussion of land/water management issues. Within this framework, management of such a key asset is extremely important and operates as a serious programme of both theory and practice. The provision of such an asset is seen as an area of intense political and economic action. The importance of this managerial attention is not disputed herein, but the process whereby such a position has been reached is described. This admittedly stylised discussion seeks to outline the process whereby water, a freely available necessity which literally falls from the sky, has been turned into a marketable commodity for sale to those who can afford to pay for it. Truly, one of the greatest robberies of all time.

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