An ICIJ Investigation The Water Barons

Cholera and the age of the water barons

The explosive growth of three private water utility companies in the last 10 years raises fears that mankind may be losing control of its most vital resource to a handful of monopolistic corporations.

In this investigation

Data analysis
Methodology: The Water Barons
The Water Barons
About This Project

About this investigation

In Europe and North America, analysts predict that within the next 15 years three private water utility companies will control 65 percent to 75 percent of what are now public waterworks.

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Less than two years after turning control over to a privatized firm, Adelaide took on a certain stench.

By and large, Americans have a safe, plentiful and cheap water supply, but three days in 2002 were a case study in the nation’s water woes. The country’s geriatric water pipes need to be fixed or replaced, and government and industry studies have estimated that it will take between $150 billion and $1 trillion over the next three decades to do the job.

City wanted to ‘protect their most precious resource’.

Camden’s poor fell victim in a water deal polluted by the city’s chronic debt and rampant corruption.

Coastal Cartagena was the first of about 50 cities and towns to privatize its water in Colombia. The capital Bogotá bucked the privatization trend, refused World Bank money and transformed its public utility into the most successful in Colombia.

Two powerful multinationals deftly used the World Bank and a compliant dictatorship to split control of a major city’s waterworks.

Politically connected families and private companies split Manila in two to share turf. At first, the two companies brought miracles by bringing running water to thousands of poor people who never had it. Now the miracle has faded as one company bails out, leaving behind enormous debts.

Politically connected families and private companies split Manila in two to share turf. At first, the two companies brought miracles by bringing running water to thousands of poor people who never had it. Now the miracle has faded as one company bails out, leaving behind enormous debts.

South Africa

Metered to death

The biggest problem in this country ravaged by AIDS, tuberculosis and malnourishment, is water. Few can afford it. But with World Bank blessing, the government is trying to end water subsidies, forcing millions of South Africans to seek their water from polluted rivers and lakes. The result: one of the largest outbreaks of cholera.

France is the birthplace of modern water privatization, but its leading companies have been rocked by scandals and allegations of influence-peddling.

While peddling the benefits of free-market privatization abroad, France carefully guards its own borders against foreign companies, claiming water is too important to be controlled by outsiders.

The explosive growth of three private water utility companies in the last 10 years raises fears that mankind may be losing control of its most vital resource to a handful of monopolistic corporations.

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