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Neoliberal Water Management: Trends, Limitations, Reformulations

Kathryn Furlong

Keywords: development; governance; neoliberalism; privatization; reform; regulation; water supply

Abstract

The impact of neoliberal policy reform on water management has been a topic of significant debate since the mid-1980s. On one side, a number of organizations have generated an abundant literature in support of neoliberal reforms to solve a range of water governance challenges. To improve water efficiency, allocation, and management, supporters have advocated the introduction and/or strengthening of market mechanisms, private sector ownership and operation, and business-like administration. Other individuals and groups have responded critically to the prescribed reforms, which rarely delivered the predicted results or became fully actualized. This article endeavors to articulate the varying sets of claims, to analyze the trends, to test them against their forecasted benefits, and to examine certain prominent proposals for reforming the reforms. The water sector experience with neoliberalization reveals several sets of contradictions within the neoliberal program, and these are discussed in the final section of the article.

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