Managing the Globalization of Sanitation and Water Services: ‘Blue Gold’ Regulatory and Economic Challenges

On behalf of the Organizing Committee, I am delighted to welcome all the delegates and their guests to Hong Kong for the International Conference that will take place on March 23-24, 2015. This is an important scientific event devoted to the globalization of sanitation and water services and it will give participants a platform to exchange ideas, discover novel legal issues, reacquaint with colleagues, meet new friends, and broaden their knowledge.

The world of water services changed significantly in the late 1990s due to an extraordinary boom in global population growth. The sustained population increase sparked a need for water services expansion. Opportunities for investment in water services and sanitation infrastructure attracted tremendous support from a myriad of international financial institutions. These institutions unlocked a host of new business opportunities for the water services and sanitation industry to address traditional problems ranging from fresh water scarcity to inadequate investment in sanitation infrastructure to the inability of many public authorities to meet coverage needs.

The inability of public authorities to provide coverage to their citizens prompted a rise in water-services privatization contracts between foreign investors and states, such that 10 percent of global consumers now receive their water from private companies. New technologies and the need for additional infrastructure investment will certainly increase demand in the market, potentially spawning billion dollar valuations. Such economic promise and opportunity largely explains why water has earned the moniker of Earth’s “blue gold.”

However, there is no specific international regime or regulation for sanitation and water services. The international economic governance of cross-border sanitation and water services is emerging that is essentially based on international trade and investment treaties. It is precisely this growing role of international economic law that inspires this conference to provide an exhaustive economic and legal analysis of a phenomenon that combines potential high profit, development of new technologies and basic needs for all to access water.

Conference Objectives: 

  • to improve our understanding of the current international legal framework in relation to internationalization of water services, to identify gaps in that framework, especially under the threat of possible climate change, and to propose changes to fill those gaps;
  • to assess whether host States need greater certainty in managing private investment contracts governing the supply of their water by foreign consortiums;
  • to investigate the nature of water as a resource, especially the nascent human right to water and its interaction with economic issues such as water pricing;
  • to inform policymakers and stakeholders about the implications of ‘globalization’ of water services for the capacity to adapt to climate change in relation to response options for water resources;
  • and, finally, to suggest legal developments which might enable states to better manage vital water services, even after privatization to foreign companies.

The proceedings of the Conference will be published. In addition to numerous researchers at CUHK, the project team includes the University of Leeds (UK), Maastricht University (Netherlands) and the University of Sydney (Australia). It also includes two WUN+ partners, the University of Valencia and the British Institute of International and Comparative Law. In 2013, the group was awarded a WUN Research Development Fund (RDF) grant to help propel the project forward.

There is no participation fee for the Conference. If you are interested, please register on the conference website as soon as possible.

View the Conference Program
View the Conference Recap