Just a few days ago, I watched Christiana Amanpour interviewing Robert F. Kennedy Junior, founder of the Water Keeper Alliance and all around friend of the poor and the environment. Kennedy began by quoting a clever observation by Mark Twain that: “Whiskey’s for drinking and Water’s for fighting”. Unfortunately, he left out another Mark Twain quote that I believe is just as applicable: “It ain’t what we don’t know that gets us in trouble. It’s what we know that ain’t necessarily so!”
Kennedy then began speaking on the many ills that confront the water sector and right at the very top was the Evil Threat of PRIVATIZATION. Now in my opinion Kennedy was absolutely right that sometimes private companies have done terrible things to the environment. Where I would fault him (and Amanpour) is in leaving the impression that private water systems have done more harm than public ones or that the poor and the environment would be just fine, if only we could keep the private sector out.
Now I know that I can’t get Kennedy or Amanpour to really visit the thousands of publicly run water systems throughout the developing world but I have this pipedream of having them come meet me at a “Lassi Shop” that is run on the same basic principles as a public water supply system in India.
There follows a brief description of the policies followed by the Lassi Shop -- all of them close replicas of their respective counterparts in the typical municipal water system over here:
Meet Me At The Lassi Shop*
Imagine, if you will, a lassi shop that was run on the same basic principles as most Indian water supply systems...
Now the Lassis are made with only the very best ingredients and usually under reasonably clean conditions BUT...
- At least 4 (and often 5 or 6) out of every 10 lassis would be spilt during delivery,
- While the remaining un-spilt lassis would be delivered to the customers, the containers used would often be the very same ones routinely used to carry night soil**,
- And the lassis, if delivered to the customers at all, would be placed 6 feet under the table rather than on top, and finally
- The lassi shop would, of course, only be open for about 2 unpredictable hours per day and in some places only at 2:00 in the morning.
Bottom Line: Strangely, even though the lassis are “subsidized for the benefit of the poor”, the poor are rarely afforded the “connections” that would allow entrance into the lassi shop. And even the regular customers seem reluctant to pay for their service.
* I refer here to a "Lassi Shop" (a place that sells very good Indian milkshakes) because unlike the now ubiquitous coffee shops and even the tea houses, lassi shops are indigenous rather than foreign imports introduced by Europeans and Americans.
** As you and other readers should know, whenever water pipes are pressurized for less than 24 hours per day those same pipes that are used to deliver drinking water are automatically subject to infiltration by whatever surface water (including raw sewage) lies in the vicinity. As you can imagine, referring to glasses used for serving drinks at "the same often used for carrying "night soil" (local euphemism for shit) doe strike some as indelicate but I am always struck by the fact that many high caste Brahmans still fear that they will be "polluted" by standing too close to an "untouchable" (much less ever eating meals with them) yet they never seem to think about the fact that their very own drinking water pipes are routinely filled with their neighbor's shit.