From the Guardian, Juliette Jowit gives us a further framing of the water price debate.
Last Friday, the World Bank held a high-level private meeting about water in New York, at which higher prices were discussed. Days before that the OECD, which represents the world's major economies, issued three water reports calling for prices to rise. "Putting a price on water will make us aware of the scarcity and make us take better care of it," said Angel Gurría, the OECD secretary-general. It has also been a key theme at this week's meeting of industry leaders in Paris, hosted by Global Water Intelligence.
The discussion at the World Bank was raised by Lars Thunell, chief executive officer of the International Finance Corporation. "Everyone said water must be somehow valued: whether you call it cost, or price, or cost recover," said Usha Rao-Monari, senior manager of the IFC's infrastructure department. "It's not an infinite resource, and anything that's not an infinite resource must be valued."
Concern about dwindling water supplies has been rising with growing populations and economies. And with climate change altering rainfall patterns, experts warn that unless changes are made, up to half the world's population could live in areas without sustainable clean water to meet their daily needs.
Global Water Intelligence's 2010 market report estimated the industry needs to spend $571bn (£373bn) a year to maintain and improve its networks and treatment plants to meet rising demand - more than three times this year's projected spending.
At the same time, a major report last year by consultants McKinsey, paid for by a group of water-dependent global brands including SABMiller and Nestlé, said that most of the estimated "gap" in water in 2030 could be met from efficiency savings such as better irrigation and new showerheads.
However, highly subsidised prices are hampering both investment and efficiency, because private and public companies cannot collect enough water, nor persuade farmers, homeowners and businesses to make - and sometimes pay for - changes to reduce their water use, say the experts.
"We were in a vicious cycle," says Virgilio Rivera, a director of Manila Water, which took over water and sewage services in the city when the Philippines government passed a National Water Crisis Act in 1997. "Lack of investment; poor service; government can't increase the water rates because customers are dissatisfied; they are not paying, so low cash flows; so the government can't improve the service."
Huge opposition to price rises is expected however, especially as so many prices are set by elected politicians.