Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Water for El Salvador -- some thoughts

Here are some propositions which I believe come out of the review of El Salvador's water issues in this blog over the past 10 days.

1) Ensuring the affordable availability of water is a fundamental obligation of governments. It is a fundamental obligation of El Salvador's government. A lack of potable drinking water to many citizens is a challenge which the government should recognize and address.

2) The water system needs investment. Wells, pipe systems, sewage treatment, and system maintenance all require significant amounts of capital. Any approach to water issues must also deal with reducing sources of contamination to El Salvador's ground water.

3) Privatization advocates can't simply say that private enterprise is more efficient than government. The profit motive has no necessary correlation to providing safe, affordable water to more and more areas of the country. Privatization of water systems has only been effective in situations where the state had a strong, transparent regulatory system which imposes real, enforceable conditions for expanding coverage and which regulates rates to avoid price-gouging. It is not clear that El Salvador has that system in place, nor does it have a court system to back up the regulations.

4) Opponents of privatization can't just say -- water is vital and no one should make profits off it. El Salvador has largely had a government-run water system up until now, and few people would give that system passing grades. The Carlos Perla scandal should give everyone reason to pause to ask -- is corruption more likely in a government-run system or a privately contracted system? In addition, if the government-run system is to continue, someone must establish where the extra money will come from. Rates will need to increase, but subsidies can be made available to help those who are least able to pay.

These are difficult issues. I don't pretend to be an expert or to have many of the answers. What El Salvador does not need, however, is a polarized political debate about water in which the only things exchanged are slogans and not concrete ideas about how to improve water access and quality for all Salvadorans.

Feel free to debate and dispute these points in the comments.

1 comment:

Walter (Los Angeles, CA) said...

i will be the first to admit that ES has suffered enough...you name it they have gone through it. private or public industry should be guided by this history of
neglect along with a deep-rooted philosophy to satisfy the need for clean, safe, and affordable water. equally important is that such should be provided to salvadorans of all economic levels/needs because in the long run the country will surely stand to benefit. here lies the opportunity for ES to provide a model of natural-resource development that could potentially serve as a model for the rest of the central american nations, maybe even the world. will financial and political ideologies win over the needs of the people or will the interests of the people finally be served?