Social services


The World Bank’s water privatisation agenda neglects fundamental human rights

9 April 2024

The World Bank remains the driving force of water privatisation globally, leveraging its position as the largest investor in water projects worldwide. From advocating for the dismantling of state-owned water companies in Cabo Verde to facilitating controversial experiments like shutting off water in Kenya to force bill payments, the Bank’s involvement is extensive and troubling (see Observer Spring 2021).

Despite recognising the efficacy of public investments, the Bank’s push for privatisation continues, as clearly shown in its Evolution Roadmap – and further promotion of the Cascade – which “represents the reaffirmation of a flawed development paradigm that assumes incentivising private finance is inherently benign and productive” (see Observer Summer 2023).

Analysing the Bank’s role in water privatisation in Tunisia, Netherlands-based NGO, the Transnational Institute, noted, “The World Bank’s policies are not geared towards enhancing the capacities of public institutions. Rather, they are focused on penetrating the public sector on behalf of the private sector, and especially on behalf of international capital.” This approach reflects broader ideological and economic interests, raising concerns about turning a basic human right into a commodity for private profit. In a press release in October 2020, UN expert Léo Heller argued that human rights risks are not neutral when it comes to the type of water and sanitation provider, stating, “when for-profit businesses are in the picture, economic motivations may outweigh the motivation to fulfil the standards of the human rights to water and sanitation.”

Amidst a global water crisis affecting over 2 billion people, the Bank’s water privatisation agenda faces strong resistance. At the 2023 World Bank and IMF Annual Meetings, the Our Water, Our Right Africa Coalition advocated for an end to public-private partnerships in water management. Led by civil society and trade unionists from almost a dozen African nations, the coalition stressed the necessity of public control and accountability for ensuring just access to water.