Poverty is still a reality for billions of people


By Thandisizwe Mgudlwa

Billions of people across the world still don’t have access to the basic services which humans and particularly children need the most.

Alternatives To Privatisation: Public Options For Essential Services In The Global South is edited by David. A McDonald and Greg Ruitures published by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) PRESS. The book seeks to provide solutions.

The study shows that the number of people in the global South without access to basic services is staggering. Globally, more than 1.1 billion people are not able to obtain safe water supplies, 2.4 billion people do not have access to improved sanitation facilities, and 1.4 billion do not have electricity. The vast majority of these people live in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

“The interconnectivity of these service deficits makes matters worse, a lack of clean water, inadequate sanitation, no electricity for the refrigeration of food and health supplies and a shortage of medical personnel all combine to wreak havoc on
peoples lives.

“These are service gaps that cost a lot of money for example, an estimated US$41 billion a year will be needed for energy infrastructure in Africa alone if universal access is attained by 2030. A major question is thus who will take responsibility for service delivery? Privately-owned profit-driven corporations, or state-operated/public entities? All indications are that struggles over privatisation and its alternatives are going to feature prominently for many years to come.

“In this light, Alternatives to privatisation: Public options for essential services in the global South offers the first global survey of its kind to provide a rigorous platform for evaluating alternatives to private enterprise.

“The book looks at what constitutes alternatives, what makes them successful or not, what improvements have been achieved and what lessons have been learnt. This is backed up by examples in over 50 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, covering three sectors – health care, water/sanitation and electricity.

In this study there are also contributions from a range of researchers, activists and NGO members, the publication is academically rigorous but also accessible to policy makers, analysts, unionists and others familiar with the debates on privatisation and its alternatives.

While acknowledging there are fuzzy margins around what defines private and alternative, the contributors have focused primarily on alternatives that include state-owned public entities, and non-state organisations that are run on a not-for-profit basis and are oriented to principles of equality and social citizenship.

The book is divided into three sections, preceded by an introductory overview and review of methodological considerations.

Part I provides insights on actors, issues and ideologies associated with the nature of the state in service provision, the role of labour and social movements, gendered outcomes of certain initiatives, and the ways that neoliberal practices push alternative delivery systems.

The second section is a review of alternative models of service delivery, broken down by region (Asia, Africa and Latin America) and sector (health care, water/sanitation and electricity). Here regional research teams identified as many successful alternatives as they could find in a given region and sector.

The study concludes with a chapter that summarises the findings of the research and points to future directions for study, policy and activism.

“The book aims to bring together academics, activists, unionists, social movements and non-governmental organisations involved in the debates over alternatives to privatisation, all of whom are seeking better models for research on public service provision. Although it focuses on particular sectors in particular regions, the findings are relevant to other services and to other parts of the world. Information of this kind is urgently required for practitioners and analysts alike, who are seeking reliable knowledge on what kinds of public models work.

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