Global Policy Forum

Going Public Can Solve the Global Water Crisis

World Development Movement
March 19, 2007

Download Going Public: Southern Solutions to the Global Water Crisis

Public water providers need to be at the heart of efforts to tackle the global water crisis, say anti-poverty campaigners the World Development Movement in a report released to mark World Water Day, 22 March. The new report – Going Public: Southern solutions to the global water crisis sets out a new vision for public water services. The report features public water experts from Brazil, Cambodia, India and Uganda, describing in their own words the successes they have had in connecting the poor to clean water.

WDM director Benedict Southworth said: "World Water Day 2007 marks the midway point for meeting the UN's Millennium Development Goals. This report sets out a really exciting vision for water and sanitation provision, a vision which is already a reality from Brazil to Cambodia; India to Uganda. These public providers are delivering clean water to poor communities, while operating in a way that is accountable and transparent to the people they serve. The question is, are donors listening?"

Brazilian water expert Antonio Miranda – who is a member of the UN Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation – says: "There is nothing the private sector can do that the public sector cannot do. But, the ingrained cultural bias against the public sector by donor governments and international financial institutions is difficult to change."

In Uganda the state-owned water corporation has demonstrated a great capacity to restructure and improve its performance, boosting service coverage from 48 per cent to 70 per cent in eight years while the utility now produces a $34 million surplus each year which can be recycled to boost coverage and reduce leaks. In Cambodia, despite losing many utility staff during the war, connections have now increased from 25 per cent to 90 per cent in ten years, with water lost through leakages and illegal connections falling from 72 per cent to 10 per cent. In Tamil Nadu, in south India a shift to community participation and decentralisation, has led to over-exploited water sources being replenished and the utility's budget stretching further each year. In Brazil, in Unai, despite the fact that the population has grown in size by 358 per cent in 40 years, the public water authorities have managed to deliver 100 per cent coverage for water and sewerage, and the utility is able to re-invest up to 20 per cent of its revenue.

Says Benedict Southworth, "We hear a lot of bad news stories from developing countries. These are real good news stories and we can learn a lot from these experiences. Public providers must be at the heart of efforts to tackle the global water crisis."




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