Over 90% of the world’s water supply is under public control, mostly municipal or provincial in ownership. Historically, water and sanitation services were developed by both the public and private sectors. In the last century however, there was a tendency for governments to take over these services, for social and financial reasons. The clock is turning full circle though as governments can no longer afford the vast sums of money that are being demanded to meet today’s environmental standards, and as such they are decentralising services and responsibility and turning to the private sector. Countries which operated centrally controlled economies are devolving water and sewage systems to regional, provincial and municipal levels. There is a new realisation that water has to be paid for properly and prices have to be calculated at full cost recovery.
Anything less results in inadequate investment in the systems and a failure to serve the poorest sections of the community, who end up buying expensive water from private vendors. Money is needed, not only in the developing world, but equally in the industrialised countries, and in huge amounts. The investment needs of the most developed systems are escalating. Most pipeline systems in Europe and North America are 100 to 200 years old and although the engineers of the 19th century built them well they have not been maintained adequately and many are now approaching critical deterioration.
It is ironic that because these engineers built such lasting systems, there has not been a pressing maintenance requirement.