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The new water wars: Struggles for remunicipalisation

David A. McDonald
Global Development Studies, Queen’s University, Canada; and Director of the Municipal Services Project; dm23@queensu.ca

Erik Swyngedouw
School of Environment, Education and Development, The University of Manchester, UK; erik.swyngedouw@manchester.ac.uk

ABSTRACT: Remunicipalisation is one of the most significant shifts in water services policy in a generation. After 30 years of privatisation, hundreds of cities around the world have taken water services back into public control, and the pace appears to be growing. There are forces that may slow or reverse this trend, however, with private water companies increasingly concerned about the impact that remunicipalisation will have on future profits, international financial institutions that remain broadly supportive of private sector participation in water services, fiscal austerity that forces local governments to abandon plans for remunicipalisation, and legal barriers. There are also diverse – even contradictory – motivations for remunicipalisation, putting into question its future as a coherent policy trend. This Special Issue seeks to advance our understanding of these broad international trends – identifying key stakeholders and investigating the nature of their support for, or opposition to, remunicipalisation – thereby shedding light on the ways in which these actors and ideas impact local and global policymaking. It looks at successes and failures in the remunicipalisation arena, with new case studies and extensive interviews with major powerbrokers in the water sector. Our hypothesis is that remunicipalisation will continue to grow in the medium term due to widespread dissatisfaction with privatisation on the part of elected officials, civil servants and citizens, but that differences within the remunicipalisation movement, combined with ongoing fiscal restraints and growing resistance from powerful multilateral actors, may make it difficult to sustain this growth without significant changes to strategy, engagement and resources, yielding useful lessons for remunicipalisation in other sectors as well.

KEYWORDS: Remunicipalisation, urban water supply, research, challenges