The Reform of the Urban Water Supply in Southern China

Abstract This report is not explicitly related to hydroelectric dams, but is an important piece on a related issue: the politics of water more generally. Problems associated with China’s urban water supply before its reform included water shortages, aggravation of water pollution, capital shortage, poor management, poor coverage, and low efficiency of water usage. The Chinese government, together with the support of international agencies such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), assumes that the privatization of water will solve these problems. In late 2002, the Chinese government expressed her full-fledged commitment to private involvement in water management by issuing a document encouraging local authorities to open their water market to private capital and foreign investments. During the following period, we can observe many major movements in the water industry, such as large-scale contracts obtained by transnational water giants like Suez and Veolia, and the rise of local water corporations such as the Beijing Capital Group and Shenzhen Water Group. In the process of reformation, what we have seen is not only the transfer of operating rights or infrastructure from state-owned-enterprises (SOE) to for-profit private companies, we also have observed that water is increasingly being managed according to commercial criteria, which demonstrates the government’s fundamental conceptual change regarding water — from a common good to a trading commodity. It leads us to ask: Who has the control over precious water resources and services? How can we ensure an equitable, as well as a sustainable water use? What are the roles of the government in water supply? And what are the roles and places of people?
Author Globalization Monitor/Transnational Institute, Hong Kong, March 2009
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4 Hydropower, 4.3 Additional reports from civil society organizations