Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Water: a Public Good?

Is water a public good?  Privatizing water has led to all kinds of traumatic consequences in poor countries, with many complaints aimed at IMF conditionality-imposed schemes.  India is considering a draft bill to privatize water there, where shortage seems particularly imminent: "India has more than 17 percent of the world's population, but has only 4% of world's renewable water resources with 2.6% of world's land area."  There is plenty of worry about what the bill will mean in terms of pricing for profit-oriented industry and long-term infrastructural consequences.  In a post last month I suggested that I thought waste disposal likely ought to be a public good because a private market would tend to want more garbage (more volume, more profit), while a public system might try to minimize garbage in order to reduce costs or meet other social goals such as conservation--the same principle seems to hold for water.

Visual News has a story (and of course a great infographic) on America's water crisis:

Basically we consume too much, both directly and indirectly, we waste a lot due to aging infrastructure, and we otherwise contaminate it with chemicals.  A startling stat: municipal water in 71% of U.S. cities has too much hexavalent chromium in it. If you don't remember why you should worry about that, you just need to think Julia Roberts:

Here is the CIA World Factbook's page on water resources, showing " the long-term average water availability for a country in cubic kilometers," i.e., the total water available to the country in an average year.

The 10 countries with the most water on average:
  1. Brazil--8,233 cu km
  2. Russia--4,498 cu km
  3. Canada--3,300 cu km
  4. United States--3,069 cu km
  5. Indonesia--2,838 cu km
  6. China--2,830 cu km
  7. Colombia--2,132 cu km
  8. Peru--1,913 cu km
  9. India--1,908 cu km
  10. Venezuela--1,233 cu km

And the 10 countries with the least:
  1. Kuwait--0.02 cu km
  2. Saint Kitts and Nevis--0.02 cu km
  3. Maldives--0.03 cu km
  4. Malta--0.07 cu km
  5. Bahrain--0.1 cu km
  6. Qatar--0.1 cu km
  7. Antigua and Barbuda--0.1 cu km
  8. Barbados--0.1 cu km
  9. United Arab Emirates--0.2 cu km
  10. Cape Verde--0.3 cu km

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